By Kyle Eliason
MINNEAPOLIS — One-hundred twenty minutes of soccer were not enough to separate Minneapolis City SC 2 and visiting Iowa Raptors FC on a beautiful July Saturday evening. Up for grabs at Edor Nelson Field was a trip to the UPSL’s national quarterfinals.
Twice during regulation, the Raptors seized the lead. First, when Dawson Swearengen slotted home a deflected clearance in the 12th minute. Then again in the 84th, when right back Jonah Danser scored the evening’s best goal, zipping a low shot through traffic to find the far corner with precision accuracy from 25 yards out.
Jacek Nickowski, who went the distance at forward for the Mini-Murder, and also drew the penalty that Abbai Habte converted to level the game at 1-1 just before halftime, offered his thoughts on facing a formidable Raptors backline that held a significant size advantage.
“They showed it right away in the first half. They would come flying into challenges,” said Nickowski. “We just talked about finding those half-spaces in those gaps off their back shoulders, just to create opportunities when they might be a little lacking.”
City 2’s head coach Kevin Lebahn offered similar.
“We know they’re going to win the first one in the air. A lot of it, for us, was focusing on the second and our movement behind it, and avoiding playing high in the air,” Lebahn said.
Trailing 1-2 near the end of regulation following Danser’s goal, second-half substitute Zach Susee kept City 2’s hopes alive when he pounced on an Habte free kick that rattled around the Raptors’ 18-yard box, ahead of the former bundling it into the net. The goal provided a cathartic moment for an undersized Minneapolis attack that had labored through a hot night against an organized Iowa defense.
As the subsequent 30 minutes of extra time wound down, Lebahn made his final substitution of the evening, replacing starting goalkeeper Troy Louwagie with Ben Schliemann. The move was one Lebahn had discussed with both of his netminders prior to kickoff.
“[Schliemann] told me he’d save two or three,” said Lebahn. “When we practiced penalty kicks this week, he saved several, and I had faith in him.
“Big Ben at the end, to make the big saves.”
Checking in just before the end of open play gave Schliemann a chance to save an Alan Kim shot from distance, before heading to penalties.
“That helped me ease my mind a bit, [to] get everything feeling normal. I bobbled it a little bit, too,” Schliemann said. “It wasn’t the best save.”
Fortunately for Schliemann and the Rookery, fate had written more saves into the script.
Raptors Danser and Mike Howell along with Mini-Murder members Ethan Anderson and Nickowski all converted their penalty kicks, setting the score at 2-2 when Dylan Swearengen — brother of Dawson — stepped to the line.
With long-sleeved jersey tucked into shorts pulled high, Schliemann held his arms wide as Swearengen started towards the ball. Reading Swearengen’s intent, Schliemann got down to his left and met a low ball with both hands, parrying it wide of the post.
Subsequently, City 2’s Nick Zuchowski and Logan Huber, along with Iowa’s Holden DeVore all converted. Protecting a 4-3 lead with a penalty in hand, the stage was set for Schliemann to steal the show.
“I just knew he was going left,” Schliemann said of Kim’s body language, as the Raptors winger made his approach.
Kim’s shot didn’t make it all the way to the corner, but Schliemann’s intuition had sent him to the correct side. Swinging his right leg over top of his left, the keeper met ball with shin and the rebound caromed over the crossbar.
As fans and Minneapolis first-team players in attendance rushed the field, the recent Washburn High School graduate stood briefly alone in the six-yard box, hands held up towards the sky and bracketing the mop of curly hair on his head, before being mobbed by spectators and teammates, alike.
The loss was a difficult one for the visitors from Cedar Rapids playing in their inaugural season. But Danser, battle-worn from a two-hour end-to-end contest, held his head high in spite of the disappointment.
“I’m super proud of my teammates for how hard they fought to get that final goal,” Danser said. “It was unlucky, when we went up 2-1, that they equalized. But PK-shootouts are always looming over your head when you play games like this.
“Our conference provided some pretty good competition. It was really hard for us to get to this part of the season. I’m proud that we were able to come into the UPSL, in our first year, and make it into the round of 16.”
“They’re a quality team,” said Lebahn of the Raptors. “Easily one of the top teams we’ve played this year.”
For the hosts, the result was a joyous one.
“I’m excited. We get to train for another week,” said Nickowski.
“I have a wedding the weekend of the [USPL] final four, and I keep telling [the bride and groom], ‘I don’t think I can attend,” Lebahn said. “We’ve been planning on making a deep run all year. We’ll see, though — one game at a time.”
“I don’t see why we can’t win it all,” said Schliemann. “I heard the teams out East are good, so it’ll be fun.”