MANCHESTER -- Clinging a one-goal lead as the second half drifted away, the Vermont Voltage, who came into the game winless in 12 matches, thought that finally that skid had come to an end.
But the Western Mass Pioneers had other ideas.
Cesar Lopez Castillo scored in the 75th minute for the equalizer and held on in a 1-1 tie that gave each team a point.
"Congratulations to Western Mass, they are a top team in our league and showed it," said Voltage coach Bo Vuckovic. "They moved the ball well, they're experienced, and it's always a good match when we play them."
The game was slow at the outset, with the teams feeling each other out in the first 20 minutes. In the 30th minute, the Voltage had two corner kicks back-to-back that kept the ball in the Pioneers' end and it was that surge that paid off in a score.
In the 34th minute, a counter-attack set up by the Voltage got the ball from the foot of midfielder Adam Kay to forward David Jackson, who swiftly beat goalie Warren Gross for the 1-nil advantage.
"If you try to go forward and score, you leave the back open and that's what happened," said Western Mass coach Federico Molinari. "It was the same way in the first half, we had about six opportunities and we couldn't [finish], and they had one opportunity and scored on it."
Vuckovic was pleased about the lead but told his team they couldn't lay back in the second half.
"I said at the half that it's still 0-0," Vuckovic said. "We were the better team in the first half and we took the 1-0 lead, but in the second half, they outplayed us. I think we tried to protect the lead and can't do that against good teams."
Vermont tried to take advantage of some sloppy defense early in the second half, but a free kick from just outside the 18 yard box was blasted square into the wall.
Each team made substitutions in the 67th minute and the fresh legs paid off for the Pioneers.
Tyler Carlos and Pau Delgado Rodriguez made life difficult for Voltage goalie Andrew Coughlin, but the Canisius College product came up big, with 13 saves total in the match. Then in the 75th minute Castillo fought off two defenders and put a left-footed shot past Coughlin.
"Andrew has been strong for us all year, on and off the field," Vuckovic said. He made some great saves. There was definitely pushing and shoving on the goal and there was no call, no call, [referee playing the] advantage and we stopped, and we can't stop until the whistle."
The Voltage had a final flurry in stoppage time that resulted in the ball going into the back of the net, but the alert assistant referee called the play offside, disallowing the go-ahead tally.
"I jumped because I thought he scored, but it's hard to see the line, so I have to take the referee's judgment, and that's it," Vuckovic said. "My angle [from the sideline] was hard to make a call."
A last-ditch effort from the Pioneers was wide and the teams ended as they'd started -- tied.
"It was very open in the last 10 minutes, each side wanting to score and taking chances," Vuckovic said.
The Voltage drop to 0-9-4, while the Pioneers are 7-4-2 on the season.
"Every game is tough in the league, the standings don't show the real quality of the teams, some years it bounces your way," Vuckovic said. "Every game has been tough."