FRANKLIN, Wisconsin — A long-range effort from Richard Rowell carried Milwaukee’s Croatian Eagles to a 1-0 victory over Minneapolis City, and handed the Crows their first-ever defeat.
City, playing its second game in many days, showed signs of fatigue in the 90-plus degree heat. While the hosts secured three points via a goalkeeping error, they also won the battle of possession and placed more shots on target on the afternoon.
Keith Kiecker, dealing with the absence of fullback Aaron Olson, opted for a 3-5-2 for his Crows. Duncan Werling made his first appearance for City in goal, with Abdallah Bah, Trey Benhart and Nate Engel making up a three-man back line. Ian Smith served as a holding midfielder behind Samuel Ruiz Plaza, and attacking midfielder Ben Wexler. Isaac Friendt and Will Kidd took up on the wings, with Andy Lorei and Matthew Gweh partnering one another up top.
The Eagles lined up in a 4-5-1. Ante Čop started between the posts behind Ryan Reid, Aaron Cranfill, Matthew Cheaney and Rowell. Joe Anderson and Austin Toth played in the center of midfield, with Donnie Crego sitting in the hole behind lone forward Andrew Wiedabach. Tenzin Rampa started on the wing opposite Amilcar Herrera.
The Eagles had the run of play in the first half, outshooting the Crows six-to-two and forcing a trio of saves from Werling. Holding a lion’s share of possession over the game’s first 15 minutes, the Eagles’ first real scoring chance came in the 10th.
Rampa chested down a driven cross at the top of the arc, was able to turn, and fired hard and low across his body. Werling, diving to his left, made a fine save, getting a hand on the shot and parrying it behind for a corner.
The Crows seemed to settle into the game after the initial 20 minutes, establishing a more even balance of possession as the two sides traded the occasional chance.
City was it its best when combining through the middle of the field, while the Eagles found success attacking down the wings against the Crows’ three-man back line. Rampa, especially when combining with Crego down the Eagles’ right flank, put the Grumpy Cats under pressure throughout the first half.
Werling was tested again in the 24th minute. Wiedabach, beating his mark off the dribble near the end line, bore down on the Crows’ goal from a narrow angle. His low shot, headed for the far post, was met with a quick left hand from Werling, executing a strong reaction save.
In the 36th minute, Lorei—playing with his back to goal—slid the ball through for Kidd. Unfortunately for City, Kidd’s low shot rolled just wide of Čop’s right post.
While the Eagles were able to reassert themselves in the closing minutes, controlling possession, the half would end scoreless.
In the 52nd minute, Rowell—carrying the ball into space along the Eagles’ left wing—lofted the ball in the direction of the Crows’ goal. The ball, coming down from a decent height, curled towards the net. Werling appeared to hesitate, as if deciding whether to punch or catch, or perhaps was still gauging whether or not the ball would clear the crossbar.
A moment later, the ball found Werling’s fingertips on its way into the net.
“Definitely was not intentional,” said Rowell. “It was a missed cross.”
“It was just a mishap. Our goalie thought he had it, and that happens in this sun, this heat, this wind,” Kiecker said. “Duncan had an amazing performance today, and I applaud his effort.”
It was also 1-0 Eagles.
In the 59th minute, Friendt took off on a run, cutting in from City’s left flank. Pushing the ball in front of him, he was met with a firm challenge. An Eagles’ defender got the ball first, but his studs carried on into Friendt’s leg. City’s winger was forced to exit the game, with Isaac Forsgren coming on in his stead.
“It looks like a bone bruise. We’ll have to get him checked out when we get back,” said Kiecker. “I feel bad for the kid, he had a gutsy performance like he always does.”
“It’s going to hurt if we lose him, but the idea behind this team is to prepare kids for college, or the next level. We’d hate to see him injured and not ready to go back to college.”
Many City players voiced their feelings that challenge warranted a foul, and City seemed to find a second wind upon the resumption of play.
In the 62nd minute, Lorie played the ball through to a streaking Kidd—the latter cutting in from out wide. Kidd rounded his mark and sent a low, driven ball across the mouth of the Eagles’ goal. Matthew Gweh was a step behind the pass, and the ball rolled out for a goal kick.
Then, in the 67th, an deflected shot from Lorei made its way through a crowd of players in the 18-yard box, but Čop was in position and was able to hold.
Controversy struck in the 69th minute following a corner for City. The ball was crossed into a cluster of players in the middle of the penalty area, and was deflected towards the Eagles’ goal.
Second-half substitute Philip Suprise appeared to be the man on the spot for the Eagles, clearing the ball off the goal line. But several Crows protested loudly that the ball had crossed the line.
Adding to the Crows ire, the referee bid play carry on, with the linesman having taken a few steps away from the end line towards midfield, abstaining from offering an indication on the play.
Suprise popped up on the other end of the pitch a few moments later, driving the ball into the Crows’ 18-yard box before firing low, prompting another quick reaction save from Werling.
In the 72nd minute, the Crows came within a foot or two of potentially leveling the score from a corner kick. A driven in-swinger was sent in the direction of Kidd, who had positioned himself just outside the six-yard box, but the ball sailed a foot over Kidd’s head.
Still searching for an equalizer, Lorei played Gweh around an Eagles’ defender in the 74th minute. Forced wide, Gweh was faced with a narrow angle, and his resulting shot was sent low and wide of the far post.
The Eagles, who had controlled much of the possession in the second half, sat deeper and deeper as the final whistle neared. City was able to advance the ball into the hosts’ half with ease, but was having trouble asking any questions of Čop.
In the 81st minute, Gweh dribbled around a pair of Eagles before drawing a foul 25 yards from goal. Lorei’s free kick was struck with good pace at the far post, but sailed high and over the crossbar.
City continued to push forward for a goal and a point, and its final effort on target came in the 94th minute from a corner. Engel managed to direct a header down and towards goal, but Čop collected the ball on a bounce.
Moments later, the final whistle sounded, giving the day to the Eagles.
Croatian Eagles head coach Alex Toth was gracious in victory.
“I thought [City] had some good moments, but when they played yesterday, and it’s 90 degrees, we had a little bit of an advantage there.” Toth did add, “I would have liked to have seen us score one more.”
“They have a lot of quality players, so you cannot make mistakes. The first game, we made two mistakes against City and they scored two goals. This game, we might have made a mistake or two, but because of the heat and the tired legs, it saved us a bit. But you can’t make mistakes, they’re a quality side right up there with us and Bavarians.”
On the chances the Eagles were able to create initiating attacks down the flanks, Toth offered, “We like to try to find the wings, come back in. It’s something we’ve been doing a lot of work on. It worked a little bit more because of their three-man back line, so I’ll take it.”
“Our coach had telling us how we, as outside backs, need to press more—that we have two players overlapping every time,” Rowell echoed. “We’ve been working on that in practice, and today it showed.”
Having suffered defeat for the first time this season, Lorei reflected, “I actually thought our performance was very respectable, given you can’t play back-to-back games at this level. I thought the guys played with some heart, and it was a decent performance, considering. I think it was a bit disappointing, but I actually thought yesterday was more disappointing.”
Engel took a similar view, stating, “I think the travel got to the guys. Having to play yesterday and driving another four hours today really took a toll on everyone’s legs. It was hot out, but I am happy everyone came together. We just didn’t get the result. We had chances we didn’t put away, and unfortunately we let one in.”
Kiecker shouldered responsibility for the loss after the match.
“We set out on this trip thinking we could handle it, but it’s 10 hours in the car in two days, staying overnight in Cedar Rapids, playing in Milwaukee in 95-degree heat without enough guys,” Kiecker said.
“As an organization, as a coach, there were some errors made. We didn’t give our guys the best opportunity. Despite that, I think we had two gutsy performances. This game could have gone either way. We had a close call on a goal. We had really good opportunities. So did they. We conceded an unfortunate goal—it was just a mishap.”
“I’m going to change things going forward. And we still can win out and win the league. One loss, two wins and two ties is not a bad place to be for a first-year team.”
Minneapolis City return home next weekend to host the Madison 56ers.
Daniel Mick’s image gallery: http://www.danielmickcreative.com/MCSC-at-Croatians-6-11-16/i-LXwfDks