NRG beat SSG for the second time to make the Grand Finals.
After an intense seven games series in the Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS) Winners Semifinals, NRG and Spacestation Gaming met again in the lower bracket to determine who would get a shot at the Grand Finals. NRG managed to win their first matchup, and they would end up taking their second meeting in much more convincing fashion. How did they manage to do it?
This series started out as well as it could have for Tshaka Lateef "Arsenal" Taylor Jr, who struggled in their first series. In the upper bracket, he only managed a .14 goals/game, and .29 assists/game. Almost immediately, he jumped out of the gates with a well-executed pass off the backboard to Slater "retals" Thomas. Just past the four-minute mark, Garret "GarretG" Gordon tied it up, and after that, the game turned scrappy. Both teams whiffed several hits as they were looking to find their footing the match, but in the final minute, SSG turned up the pressure. After a lacklustre start, they began to pound NRG's defence, but NRG managed to put together several saves to force overtime. Mariano "SquishyMuffinz" Arruda made a clever interception in SSG's own third, and Justin "jstn." Morales followed it up well with a shot placed far post. It gave NRG a 1-0 series lead, and it was a well-executed team play that would be a sign of things to come.
Perhaps Arsenal was just in the mood to dominate the competition after a lacklustre series against NRG earlier in the day because he was involved in all three goals for SSG as they jumped to a 3-0 lead. At 4:06, he bumped the goalie as Caden "Sypical" Pellegrin scored an easy air dribble. At 3:33, he set retals up for a midfield shot, and yet another finish for retals at 2:53 when he chased down GarretG in the corner to push the ball into the middle.
It wasn't long, though, for NRG as they came back from a three-goal deficit. The first was a clever fake from Jstn, but the next goal he was involved in was even more impressive. He took the ball off his own backboard before carrying it to midfield where Squishy hit a power shot over the defender.
NRG's teamplay would lead to another goal as Squishy hit the ball upfield where GarrettG smacked it off the ceiling for an easy finish for Jstn. SSG would end up winning Game 2 with this odd goal, but NRG was still looking dangerous after coming back from 0-3 in a blink.
The best teams in the region are known for being able to execute passing plays better than the rest of the competition, and it was obvious that NRG was sniffing around for opportunities. SSG, as would be expected, were capable of limiting the damage from this sort of plays through most of the series. It bought them enough time for SSG to capitalise on a turnover from Jstn as retals set up a great air dribble demo for Arsenal to finish.
Both teams were still generating a few dangerous opportunities, but neither team would score until less than a minute remained. After only managing a single shot on target in the first four minutes, NRG were able to tie the game with six seconds remaining when GarrettG pounded the ball of the corner for Squishy to finish.
Once overtime began, SSG was still forcing uncomfortable saves from NRG's defence, but NRG's chemistry shined through when it mattered most. Fifty seconds into overtime, Squishy hit a ball out to midfield where Jstn. hit a perfect redirect under the crossbar to take the series lead.
Arsenal hit a very tidy redirect deep in NRG's territory only eighteen seconds into the game, but at this point, NRG's offence would start clicking. SSG would be outscored 8-2 in the series from this point. Jstn. pressured a poor touch from Sypical that GarretG finished easily only seconds later. Squishy would intercept the ball at midfield, and the high bounce allowed GarrettG to set himself up for an impressive double-tap to make it 2-1 at the 3:56 mark.
GarrettG would score a self-created opportunity at the 3:31 mark as this series showed how NRG can be proficient in team play and individual mechanics. It was another double-tap, and all the momentum was in favour of NRG after his hat trick.
Retals and Sypical would combine for a quality goal of their own, but it wasn't enough to turn the tide. GarretG's fourth goal of the game, and his third double-tap, would put the nail in the coffin.
It didn't take long for NRG to jump to the lead in Game 5. Jstn. forced the SSG defence to pressure him, and the resulting challenge gave Squishy an opportunity to power the ball into the back of the net. The score-line would stall until the 1:48 mark when Squishy converted on some extended pressure after SSG struggled to get much going on their own end. NRG was caught in an awkward situation as two defenders got caught on the crossbar simultaneously and it gave SSG a glimmer of hope. However, Arsenal missed the ball completely as Jstn. tried going for a quick touch, but it only left the net wide open for Squishy to notch his own hat trick. Although the game was essentially over, Jstn. went for an ambitious interception, created a great pass off the far wall, and GarrettG finished it to put the cherry on top. NRG would seal the series 4-1.
Even though they beat SSG, Rogue would end up defeating NRG in the Grand Finals, but there were plenty of encouraging signs in NRG's gameplay. They weren't perfect in the third Regional, but their ability to put up highlight plays against the best teams in the region always creates excitement around their matchups. As the Winter Major nears, the sky is the limit for this squad.
Images via Liquipedia | @RLEsports