Minneapolis City broke a 1-1 first-half tie, scoring in the 75th minute from the penalty spot to record a victory in its home debut. Forward Matthew Gweh scored City’s first-ever competitive goal in the 9th minute, and also played a hand in City’s second.
The introduction of holding midfielder A.J. Albers allowed City head coach Keith Kiecker to return to his preferred 4-3-3. Matt Elder started his second-straight match in goal for the Crows. Fullbacks Aaron Olson and Abdallah Bah flanked captain Trey Behart and Nate Engel, comprising the Crows’ back four. In midfield, Albers sat in front of defense, allowing Max Stiegwardt and Samuel Ruiz Plaza to play further up the pitch. Gweh and Isaac “Goose” Friendt started on the wings, with Andy Lorei operating as the center forward.
The visiting Croatian Eagles used Ante Cop in goal, and also played with a back four, lining up Aaron Schroeder, Ryan Reid, Cheikh Drame and Alex Tozer from left to right. Joseph Anderson and Boubacar Sylla formed the base of a midfield triangle with Amilcar Harerra at its point. Wingers Brandon Chmiel and Diego Bobadilla flanked striker Andrew Wiedabach.
The skies above Minneapolis opened up 30 minutes prior to gametime, and while the rain lightened up around kickoff, precipitation continued to fall well into the second half. Rain earlier in the week had prevented South High School’s grounds crew from mowing a field that was last tended to on Wednesday, and the length of the grass made for a very slow playing surface.
Right from the start, there was a stark contrast in each team’s style of play, with the Eagles playing very direct, and the Crows looking to keep the ball on the ground. Given the wet, yet slow playing conditions, that should have favored the Eagles. However, the triangle of Benhart, Engel and Albers proved more than up to the challenge of turning back longball after longball played through the air.
Oddly, and in spite of a concerted effort to play the ball through the Eagles’ lines on the ground, City’s first-ever competitive goal would come through the air. The Crows were awarded a free kick near the middle of the field, 30 yards out from the Eagles’ goal. The resulting kick was sent in the direction of Albers, who headed the ball on towards Gweh, who headed the ball into the back of the net.
“On that play, I was thinking of not going up, but I thought, ‘Why not?’” said Gweh. “I made a run through, A.J. headed the ball across, and I happened to be there.”
City almost doubled its lead off a second combination of headers in the 25th minute, with targetman Lorei flicking a ball through traffic in the 18-yard box in the direction of Albers. Unfortunately for CIty, Albers’ effort struck a surprised Cop before the Eagles’ keeper collected the ball.
The Eagles would hit back in the 31st minute, when Hererra played the ball around Engel, putting Wiedabach through on goal. Elder seemed to hesitate, considering coming out for the ball, but decided to stay in his box. A moment later Wiedabach finished low to Elder’s right to tie the match.
Another scoring chance came in the 39th minute when, through a fair amount of traffic in City’s 18-yard box, the ball fell to Wiedabach. Sliding for the ball, the forward was only able to fire into the goal’s side netting.
The first half ended an even affair, though it was obvious the conditions were working against a smaller, more technical Crows side.
The second half began in similar fashion, with the Croatian Eagles content to play long and direct, and not having much success besting Benhart, Engel and Albers in the air. Meanwhile, a number of City counterattacks stalled in the long grass.
In the 59th minute, Lorei found himself in an offside position on the end of a City attack, but wisely let the ball pass him by. An alert Gweh was able to run the ball down, beat his man cutting into the box, and threaten the Eagles’ goal. However, by the time the play had developed, there was too much traffic in front of the net, and Gweh’s shot was unable to make its way through.
The Eagles looked like they may take their first lead of the match in the 62nd minute, as a Crows’ turnover led to the visitors gaining numbers on the counter. The Eagles worked the ball out wide, playing a low driven cross, but Elder was able to come off his post, dive and hold. The alert play stranded a pair of Eagles at the far post.
With Will Kidd replacing Lorei, Kidd took up on the wing and Gweh shifted into the middle of City’s forward line. The change would prove fortuitous for City.
The Crows began a counter by playing the ball long to Gweh. Exercising patience, Gweh was able to shield the ball from his mark, allowing Friendt time to run past him down City’s right flank. Gweh’s through-ball hit a streaking Friendt in stride. Friendt was able to use his pace to drive the ball into the box, where after beating his mark off the dribble, he was taken down, winning a penalty for City.
Stiegwardt stepped up and calmly finished low and to his right to put City ahead in the 75th minute.
“I am a center forward,” Gweh stated postmatch. “When Andy ran out of gas, I slid over. Goose made a great run, and I was happy to slide the ball through for him.”
City had retaken the lead, but still needed to see off a late pair of Eagles chances to seal victory.
In the 88th minute, second-half substitute Tenzin Rampa got the better of a challenge along the endline, then flashed a driven cross past the mouth of City’s goal. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they had no one waiting at the back post.
Then, in the 93rd minute, Rampa decided to take matters into his own hands, letting fly with an effort from just beyond the arc. The strike sailed over Elder’s crossbar, and moments later the final whistle was blown.
The win was an important one for City. It kept the Crows in good stead near the top of the West Division standings, and gave fans in the Twin Cities three points to celebrate. Perhaps more impressively, it showed that one of the smaller and more technical sides in the Premier League of America could grind out a result when needed.
Aside from a single lapse in the first half, the Crows’ defense was solid. Bah turned in a memorable defensive performance on the right flank, and the triangle of Behart, Engel and Albers won nearly every aerial duel they contested.
When asked about how easy it was to settle in with his new teammates, having returned to Minnesota after graduating from college on Saturday, Albers said, “I know a lot of our players from [Minnesota Thunder Academy], and a lot of our players from last year [with Stegman’s Internationals]. It was nice to get in, and see what the system is like.”
On the defensive performance turned in by his centerbacks and himself, Albers added, “We’re ball-hungry. [The Eagles] playing it into us played to our advantage.”
Kiecker was even more bullish on his team’s performance. “The field conditions and the weather conditions were a little depressing, but the guys figured out a way to win. On a bigger field, on a flat surface, that’s a 5-0 win for us.” Kiecker continued, “We gave them opportunities at times, but once we got the ball down and played, we were a much better team. Goose destroyed anyone he came up against. Matthew Gweh came alive today. Albers was a beast in the middle.”
Turning his attention to next week’s Twin Cities Derby against Minnesota United Reserves, Kiecker said, “They don’t use college players, so I think that’s a huge advantage for us. A lot of our guys have been playing together since February, and the college guys who have come back are fit. I think we’re just scratching the surface on what we can do. It will be a tough match because it is a derby, but talent-wise I don’t think they match up.”
Soccer fans in Minnesota can see Minneapolis City host Minnesota United Reserves on June 3rd, at 6:35 PM at South High School’s Les Barnard Field.
Image gallery available at Daniel Mick Creative: http://www.danielmickcreative.com/Minneapolis-City-vs-Croatian
MINNEAPOLIS CITY: Matt Elder, Aaron Olson, Trey Benhart, Nate Engel, Abdallah Bah, A.J. Albers, Max Stiegwardt, Samuel Ruiz Plaza, Matthew Gweh, Andey Lorei, Isaac “Goose” Friendt
SUBS: WIll Kidd, Brian Chapman, Kevin Hoof, Isaac Forsgren
CROATIAN EAGLES: Ante Cop, Aaron Schroeder, Ryan Reid, Cheikh Drame, Alex Tozer, Joseph Anderson, Boubacar Sylla, Brandon Chmiel, Amilcar Harerra, Diego Bobadilla, Andrew Wiedabach
SUBS: Edison Crespo, Connor Brehm, Tenzin Rampa, Logan Martell
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Editors Note: An earlier version of this recap incorrectly stated that Eagles goalkeeper Josh Rohde suffered an injury during warmups.