CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Chaos finally hit on the winning combination Friday night.
James Pucci and Predrag Ivanovic took turns setting up each other for second-half goals as the Chaos came from behind for a 2-1 victory over the Virginia Beach Piranhas. A crowd of about 200 attended the Premier Development League's South Atlantic Division matchup at Schoenbaum Soccer Stadium in Coonskin Park.
The win vaulted the Chaos (5-5-2), which played its fourth game in eight days, into first place over the Carolina Dynamos (5-1) and SC United Bantams (5-5) by two points (17-15). The Dynamos host Northern Virginia tonight.
West Virginia came up empty-handed last weekend, taking a loss and tie out of its foray into Virginia. The Chaos and Piranhas played to a 1-1 draw last Saturday.
The Chaos then took one on the chin Wednesday, falling to the Southern West Virginia King's Warriors 3-1 in a hastily scheduled make-up game.
The Chaos is chasing its first playoff appearance in its 11-year history in Charleston.
"It was tough,'' said Ivanovic of Friday's triumph. "A lot of games and the [Chaos youth] camp. Our legs were a little bit heavy in the first half. Nobody quit. Everybody was working hard. That's what we need.''
After falling behind 1-0 early in the opening half and appearing listless before the break Friday, Ivanovic, who is also the Chaos' first-year coach, scored off an assist from Pucci in the 56th minute to knot the game at 1-all. Pucci sent a pass to Ivanovic at the left post and Ivanovic flicked the ball into the net.
Pucci put the Chaos in front for good off a setup from Ivanovic in the 78th minute of the 90-minute match for a 2-1 edge. Pucci took Ivanovic's pass on the right wing then dribbled toward the middle of the penalty box and uncorked a laser into the lower-right corner. The Chaos fended off the Piranhas in three minutes of stoppage time.
"We fought,'' said Pucci. "Every game we concede a goal in the first half and we got a little bit upset about it. [Virginia Beach] traveled seven hours to come up here so we went 100 percent. We just went after every ball.''
Chaos keeper Tyler Atwell turned in six saves, including a diving stop in the second half. Virginia Beach's Peter Pearson tallied off an assist from Jared Windt in the 22nd minute.
The Chaos playoff push will come to a head in the next two weeks as it begins a two-game series with the Dynamos. West Virginia travels to Carolina July 6 then ends the season at Schoenbaum versus the Dynamos July 12.
"In the past we were a team that couldn't close games and now we're changing it and we're starting to score,'' said Ivanovic, who will be a graduate assistant for the University of Charleston men's soccer team in the fall.
"We've lost three or four games in the last 30 minutes [after leading] so this is a good change. I'm really proud of the guys' effort.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.