Minneapolis City’s playoff run came to an end against Founder’s Cup team Detroit City FC, but their valiant effort will live long in the memory.
Only 13 players made the bench at Keyworth Stadium for this Midwest Regional semifinal, the players a victim of injuries, the USA Cup back home, and two cancelled flights due to weather in Minneapolis–an issue that meant that Coach Matt vanBenschoten lost his starting fullbacks the day of the game.
The situation was so desperate that Juan Louis and Nick Hinds, both players who were registered but who had moved away from Minneapolis before the season, were called into the team to make their season debut. Needless to say, neither had an opportunity to train with their teammates before the game.
And yet, to watch the team before kickoff was to watch a team that relished the challenge, and the occasion.
Many teams have been intimidated by the cauldron of noise and intimidation that is Keyworth Stadium but, from the beginning, it was clear that the Crows were there to enjoy it.
“Our fans are loud and rowdy too, and they are great at heckling, so we love this environment” said forward Nick Hutton. “Obviously, there were a lot more of them in Detroit but in a lot of ways they felt like our people.”
Minneapolis, facing, in Detroit City, one of the top sides in the league, set up to play like the away team. Sitting deeper that usual and playing more direct than usual, the game plan looked to take advantage of the Crows’ pace up top to get in behind Le Rouge’s wingbacks in their 3-5-2 formation.
It ceded possession, and to be fair Detroit’s midfield were slick and clean and may have won the possession battle anyway, but it created chances.
Early in the half, Juan Louis had two chances near the top of the 18. Unfortunately, he put both shots over the bar.
Detroit, attacking in swarms of pace and interchanging passes, were also dangerous. They used their short passing to open up the opposite wing and, in the 22nd, minute, that created a goal. The ball went wide right, was cut back into the middle and, in one of those situations that often decide games, a scuffed shot was deflected into the path of Detroit forward Shawn Lawson to tuck home. The visitors appealed for offside, and there were suspicions of it, but replays showed that the goal was good.
That seemed to knock the wind out of Minneapolis for a while, with the Crows having to rely on their valiant rear guard to keep Le Rouge at bay. With goalkeeper Troy Louwagie in fine form, a fantastic save one-on-one with Max Todd a particular highlight, and centerbacks Aaron Olson and Jonah Garcia showing all the grit and determination their are known for, Detroit were unable to find a way through.
And, as the half wore on, Minneapolis started to show more life.
Forward Nick Hutton was tireless leading the line and there was palpable panic in the back every time the ball went his way.
The visitors deserved more when Hutton chased down a ball into the channel, found Justin Oliver, and Oliver burst past his man and into the box. He was cut down just inside the area, replays on it were clear, but the referee waved play on.
Then, at almost the stroke of halftime, Minneapolis won a free kick, again after good work from Hutton and Oliver. Stiegwardt sent the ball to the far post, Garcia headed back across goal and Matt Murakami connected with the ball. The goalkeeper was in the goal, but the linesman judged that his hand was over the line enough to keep the ball out.
It’s hard to imagine getting any closer and not scoring.
Not that Detroit City minded. They had dodged two bullets and walked into the locker room at halftime with a 1-0 lead.
The second half saw the two sides continue go toe-to-toe with each other along the same lines. The visitors were much brighter, with Eli Goldman particularly influential behind the interchanging Hutton, Oliver, and Will Kidd. More than once Oliver broke into the area but, whether he went down under challengers or attempted to stay on his feet, he was getting no love from the referee and wasn’t quite able to get a clear shot.
Detroit City, for their part, continued to hog possession but began to settle for shots from distance as the Crows rear guard continued its fine performance and blocked attempts to get any closer than about 20 yards from the goal. They almost scored a second after Louwagie and Lawson collided contesting a cross. Louwagie got a hand on the ball, but it fell to Todd who, under no pressure at all and with the goal at his mercy, contrived to miss the target.
On the other end, Hutton’s pressure paid off as he picked Gueye’s pocked to go clear in on goal. He tried a snap shot, looking to surprise the keeper as he came off of his line, but his shot went wide.
Juan Louis then got perhaps the best chance for the visitors, receiving a cutback at the top of the 18. He took a touch and curled a shot to the bottom corner. The goalkeeper was equal to it and Louis will wonder what would have happened if he had put just a bit more on the shot.
In the 77th minute, the game ended as a competitive affair. A long ball out to the left found the Detroit attacker. Aaron Olson tracked him closely and, when the cross was whipped in, it went off of Olson’s arm. His arm was in a natural position, but in these days when it appears that any ball-to-arm contact is a penalty, the referee pointed to the spot. The Crows had a right to feel aggrieved, there is no other place he could have put his arm, but that didn’t stop Todd from scoring a Panenka-style penalty.
Detroit City, taking advantage of their deep bench and ability to kill a game by keeping possession, did just that to take the 2-0 win.