The weather presaged the result on Wednesday in Duluth, as Minneapolis City made the short trip up I-35 on the back of a nine game winning streak. For the third season in a row, the Crows knew that a win would hand them the conference title against their bitter rivals. Though the hosts started as hot as the weather, a halftime shower foreshadowed the torrent of goals that the visitors would score to wrap up their third straight conference title.
Given the stakes, it was no surprise that the City faithful were out in force: a strong group of traveling supporters were in Duluth and the turnout at the watch party in Minneapolis was such that the person in charge of the gameday Twitter missed the first goal because he was stuck in the beer line. That was how quickly Duluth started the game. The home side won the ball in midfield and swept it wide right, forwards racing into the box. An inch-perfect cross found the head of Sidney Warden whose header crashed off of the crossbar. Aidan Hill, trailing the play, was able to head the rebound in to make it 1-0.
The Crows were unruffled. They remained dedicated to their possession play, though they showed a willingness to let Max Kent break the Duluth press via long driven balls to the wingers and the occasional driving run out of the back that echoed Harry Maguire for England. It was Kent whose run started an attacking move that ended in a corner for City. It was delivered to the back post, headed across goal, and then laid off for Jack Barry to head home. Just 13 minutes after the opener, City were level.
From there, the City midfield began to take hold of the game–and continued to keep control on the other side of halftime. Ian Smith was doing his best Gennaro Gattuso impression, an all-action display on interceptions and tackles that effectively shielded the back four. Max Stiegwardt was a blur of energy and intent, using his passing range and vision to progressively move the ball. And Eli Goldman was simply unplayable.
Head coach Matt vanBenschoten said, “There were so many good performances but Eli Goldman is an absolute game changer as he’s shown in his first two games back. Really happy to have him back from injury.”
The game was bending unerringly in City’s favor, with Goldman probing and prodding, when a moment of madness from Aidan Hill, who responded to giving up the ball by throwing himself into the back of Will Kidd with a two-footed lunge. He was duly dismissed. Then, reveling in the extra space, Goldman ended the game, scoring after haring through to latch on to a through ball and dinking past Dally in the goal and then scoring again to make it 3-1.
Between City’s second and third goals there were a flurry of substitutions from each side. Duluth were looking to find their footing while City smelled blood. As the minutes ticked away in the second half substitutes Kevin Andrews, Nick Hutton, and Aidan O’Driscoll all scored as the Crows put an exclamation mark on another title winning performance against Duluth.
“Overall it was a really strong team performance” said Ian Smith after the game. “Everyone stayed calm after they scored early, and we just wore them down. I was never in doubt about the result, and we’re just really pleased to win another NPSL North title.”
As the players sang in celebration with the traveling fans, Matt vanBenschoten reflected on the match. “In previous years I don’t know if we would recover from giving up a goal in the first five minutes. It tells you a lot about the character of these guys and how much they believe in one another to keep going and score six unanswered.”
He continued, “I’m so proud of this team. Every single player continues to put the team’s success over themselves. I think we’re really starting to make all the pieces fit together. You can see it coming out through all three of our lines in how our backs are connecting to the midfield and the mids keep feeding our attack.”
Where to from here for a rampant City? Ian Smith had an idea, “to the Moon