Brussels, Belgium – Before heading back to the USA to join his international colleagues, Mark McKenzie was called up to anchor the Genk defense against league leading Union St. Gilloise.
After a mediocre first half where they surrendered a goal to Casper Neilsen, the Belgian Cup winners fought back and tied things up with a Paul Onuachu penalty conversion. All the hard work was undone however by a very late USG penalty that turned out to be the game winner.
The hosts decided early on that they would take on a more aggressive role and look to unsettle their visitors, who seemed content to sit back and absorb a bit of pressure. It took just nine minutes for Maarten Vandevoordt to be tested and the Belgian keeper made easy work of his first save of the game.
Although USG had most of the ball, 60% over the 90 minutes, and even a lot more in the first half, they just could not figure out what to do with it as McKenzie and his central defensive partner Mujaid Sadick kept their shape and kept the Unionists at bay.
A 19th-minute corner kick by the hosts did create some threat for the visitors, but Vandevoordt easily punched it away. The American international was called into action a few minutes later as well when Deniz Undaz sent a long diagonal ball into the box for Loic Lapoussin, but McKenzie stepped in to block the Madagascar international’s run, allowing his keeper to easily collect the ball.
Union’s persistency paid off and in the 27th minute when they got the goal that they so richly deserved based on their dominance so far. Ironically, it actually came from a counter attack when Bart Nieuwkoop got the ball to the right of the box and noticed his Danish colleague charging forward. The Dutch winger squared the ball and Neilsen hit it hard and low, tucking it inside the far post past the diving Vandervoort.
After the goal USG didn’t take their collective feet off the accelerator and were at it again minutes later, but on the next occasion Dante Venzeir was outpaced for the ball by McKenzie, who booted it out of harm’s way.
Genk did make a few valiant first-half efforts of their own with Junya Ito working in on the right in a 4-3-3 formation. On this occasion however Siebe Van Der Heyden took care of business.
Shortly after, the Japanese striker came forward again and this time sailed a sweet cross into the box around eight yards out from goal, but alas, there was not a blue shirt in sight to change the trajectory towards the Union goal.
With the opening 45 minutes coming to an end, USG’s Teddy Teuma fired the last shot of the half but the captain’s effort was easily scooped up by the overworked Genk keeper.
After being on he back foot for most of the first half, the team from the Limburg Province looked like a totally different set of players after the intermission. They immediately won back-to-back corner kicks that unfortunately came to nothing. Patrik Hrosovsky also took a crack from distance but it just missed the target.
Although the visitors looked much improved, finding the back of the net still eluded them so their German coach, Bernd Storck, made a double substitution in the 67th minute. Pivotally, this included bringing the big Nigerian Onuachu on to lead the line, and McKenzie going off to shift the team to a more offensive formation.
The replacement up front paid off just ten minutes later. Onuachu was brought down in the box and then did the honors himself, placing the ball on the spot and sending Anthony Moris the wrong way to equalize.
The 6’7” behemoth could have, and should have put Genk in front two minutes later when a speedy Theo Bongonda raced up the wing and laid off an almost perfect, grass cutting-pass in front of the goal mouth, but the Nigerian just couldn’t get a toe to make contact and send it into the net.
The final ten minutes of the game saw both teams looking for all three points but in the end, fortune favored USG and they won a penalty deep in stoppage time.
VAR was called in to confirm the referee’s decision and after quite a long time, it was indeed upheld; Dante Vanzeir converted the spot kick, and was credited with his 13th goal of the season in the 100th minute.
After the game Yanks Abroad caught up with McKenzie, who will be flying back to the USA to join his international colleagues tomorrow.
“There was not enough movement in the first half,” the man from the Bronx said.
“We were very stagnant, so it kind of played into their hands. And we turned the ball over too many times, unforced. But we came out in the second half and showed some liveliness.”
“Finally we got a breakthrough on the goal but again, it’s a 2-1 loss in a game where I felt that we at least deserved a point.”
Regarding the very late penalty, McKenzie continued, “We made a few mistakes in transition and it cost us. The first time we got lucky; the second time we gave up a penalty.”
“I didn’t see the play clearly so whatever the ref called, he called, but we got punished because of the two mistakes.”
McKenzie will be looking to help the USA take maximum points in the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers starting on Friday.