Minneapolis City traveled to Duluth knowing that a win would retain their North Conference title. And it was not just a win they delivered, but a carbon copy of the 4-2 victory over the Donkeys that clinched the 2018 Conference title.
It was a hot afternoon kickoff, and both teams tore into each other.
The Crows were clearly looking to blitz Duluth early and their attacking intent paid off. At the quarter hour, Will Kidd powered into the box and was fouled. Nick Hutton, in his debut against Duluth, stepped up and converted the penalty to take the lead.
Both sides, familiar with each other after years of sparring for trophies, settled into strong possession-based games, building from the back, and intelligently moving the ball around. And yet, as the half hour approached, City remained the most dangerous with both Hutton and Whitney Browne using their pace and movement to trouble the Duluth defense.
The pressure remained on from the away side, but the finishing wasn’t there and the half ended 1-0.
That left the match finely poised. Duluth needed to win to have a chance of winning the conference crown, so they had to push on.
Push on they did, starting the half well. Only centerback Jonah Garcia, with a few crucial clearances, kept them at bay.
And then, somewhat against the run of play, winger Justin Oliver went on a mazy, speedy, unstoppable run and toped it off with a fine finish to double the lead. He ran in celebration to the traveling supporters and then made sure to shush the ten or so home fans who had been heckling him during the game.
It wasn’t over as a competitive match though as Duluth came roaring back. Dutchman Lucas Jacobs halved the deficit just three minutes after Oliver scored.
But then Minneapolis City were back at it. Will Kidd fired in a shot, and, with shades of Rapinoe’s free kick against France, Duluth defender Ben-Tal whiffed his clearance and that seemed to fool the goalkeeper. That made it 3-1 to City with 15 minutes to play.
The home fans had not stopped heckling Oliver, which was a mistake, because a minute later—with the scoreboard not even updated yet—he went on a duplicate mazy, speedy, unstoppable run and topped it off with a fine finish to make the game 4-1. In this game last year, he also scored a brace as City beat Duluth to win the conference crown. A little deja vu.
If there is one thing that is true about this Duluth team it’s that they never say die. Down three goals with 15 minutes left, they kept at it and were rewarded with a goal to bring the scoreline to 4-2 with 7 minutes left.
City seemed content to pack it in and run down the clock, which they did with aplomb to take the win and the conference title.
It was deja vu all over again given that last season City had beaten Duluth 4-2 to win the conference. On to the playoffs!