Duluth’s leading scorer Kyle Farrar tallied the only first-half goal, and Duluth doubled its lead on a Minneapolis own goal in the second half. A late score from Minneapolis’ Isaac “Goose” Friendt set the stage for frantic final moments, but the BlueGreens held and rewarded the home crowd with a victory.
Exchanges on social media between fans and brass from both clubs had set the stage for the evening.
“A lot has been said over the season. Both teams wanted to go out and prove themselves right,” said Farrar. “It wasn’t so much for the three points. It was for pride.”
Both teams ran out in similar formations, each employing a 4-2-3-1 with two players at the base of a midfield triangle.
City seized much of the initiative early, and its one-touch passing in the center of the field was impressive. Duluth opted, predictably, for a more direct approach in the early going, and looked dangerous when it was able to back Minneapolis up in its own defensive third.
Short clearances and the occasional unsuccessful attempt to play the ball out of the back from the Crows led to a bit of sustained pressure from the BlueGreens, foreshadowing the game’s first goal.
In the ninth minute, the ball was worked into the box to Farrar as the forward had his back to goal.
“I was going to hit it with my left, but [City] defended well, so I had to shift it,” said Farrar.
Turning to his right, the forward was able to find enough space to pull the ball back across his body and to slot it to the left of City goalkeeper Matt Elder.
The score had come against the balance of possession, and swung the game’s momentum Duluth’s way.
For the next 15 minutes, the BlueGreens bossed the game. Travelling City fans had brought a tifo that read, “Get Your Kicks With DFC,” complete with a modified BlueGreens crest in which the Aerial Lift Bridge had been replaced by a kicking donkey and Enger Tower swapped out for a broken bone. As if to corroborate Minneapolitan caricatures of the Twin Ports, the sky opened up in the 16th minute. Rumbles of thunder were audible in the distance as a small storm crested over the hills and swept out over the Lake Superior. Home fans were prepared and unfurled a sea of umbrellas.
Making use of a fast and technical forward line, City deployed Will Kidd, Miles Stockman-Willis and Whitney Browne as a front three. Oddly, as the Crows sought to fight their way back to level, they often looked long for the aforementioned trio. This brought the aerial prowess of 6-foot-4 Gonnie Ben-Tal and 6-foot-4 Daniel Hedstrom into play for the BlueGreens, and the center back pairing had little difficulty winning headers against City.
“The wind played a role in the game tonight,” said Ben-Tal. “In the first half, the wind sort of took the ball over, so it was easier for us. In the second half, the wind held the ball, so those short strikers that normally wouldn’t be a problem in the air became one. But I thought we dealt with it pretty well.”
The weather conspired to further dampen City’s night in the 30th minute, when the wet turf caused an odd skid from a bouncing ball, catching Crows full back Charlie Adams by surprise. The ball struck Adams’ hand, and the referee judged Adams’ arm was in an unnatural position, awarding a penalty kick to Duluth.
Attacking midfielder Joe Watt’s subsequent kick was struck with force, but also waist-high. Diving to his right, Elder parried the ball with both hands to keep his team in the game as City cleared the rebound.
With the rain having passed, the Crows began to find their wings again.
In the 40th minute, a Duluth turnover fell to City’s Ben Wexler, and the midfielder slipped the ball to Martin Browne on the edge of the penalty area. Faced with a narrow-angle shot, Browne opted to shoot for the near top corner. His effort caromed off the post. The rebound fell to Ruiz-Plaza who attempted to square for Kidd but Stockman-Willis was simultaneously called offside.
Four minutes later, following a clearance from City’s own box, Martin Browne was able to spring Stockman-Willis on the counter. Shoulder-to-shoulder with Nicolas Railef, Stockman-Willis held off the BlueGreens winger while sprinting toward goal and smacked an effort on frame. Literally on frame as City again saw a shot hit the near post. The ball rebounded across the face of an empty goal and fell to Browne who had been trailing the play. Sliding, Browne poked the ball back towards goal, and also sliding, Ben-Tal executed a last-second clearance to keep the Crows off the scoreboard.
City opened the second half as it ended the first: on its front foot. And like the first half, it was Duluth that would open the scoring.
Taking a corner kick in the 59th minute, Sean Morgan swung in a driven cross that was glanced by the head of Friendt, who was defending space in front of City’s near post. The touch sent the ball towards City’s net, and after skipping through traffic, found its way in. Duluth had doubled its lead.
City tried to get back into the game three minutes later. Awarded a free kick 24 yards from goal, dangerman Martin Browne addressed the ball. The midfielder got his free kick up and down over the wall as the ball curled toward the near post. Keeper Tom Greensall parried the ball while diving to his left, and the rebound deflected off Friendt and out for a goal kick.
The slick surface and fast playing conditions seemed to work against a technical Crows team chasing the game, as several passes and dribbles dribbles ran long in the attacking third for Minneapolis.
Looking to catch the BlueGreens off guard, City employed a quick restart on a 77th-minute free kick. The ball was played into the path of a sprinting Nick Hinds, and the full back elected to rip a shot from 35 yards out. The effort skipped just wide of the far post, though Greensall was adamant postgame that he had the shot covered.
In spite of a two-goal advantage for the hosts, tension continued to build as City threw players forward in hopes of at least snatching a draw.
Travelling Crows supporters challenged the home crowd with several choruses of, “Can you hear the BlueGreens sing? We can’t hear a f—ng thing,” bringing the BlueGreens’ support to life with an answer of “Scoreboard.”
Second-half substitutes Ben Wexler and Connor Stevenson were unable to place headers on target in the 80th and 83rd minutes.
City would finally break its duck in the 90th minute.
“I saw [Stevenson] pick his head up,” said Friendt. “I didn’t think the defense would track me at the back post, so I made a run.”
Receiving the ball as it was switched to the other side of the 18-yard box, Friendt collected and drove a shot over Greensall into the roof of the netting before the keeper could get his arms up to stop the effort.
The Crows continued to press for an equalizer, but were denied by a determined BlueGreens side and the final whistle. After which, extra-circular discussions between the two teams following the conclusion of play required mediation on the part of the referee and his assistants.
The win brought the Blue Greens level on points with the Crows in the North Conference standings, and into a three-way tie for third place, two points off a playoff spot. For Duluth, it was a step closer to the postseason. For City, a missed opportunity that gave Viejos Son Los Trapos FC the opportunity to leap past Dakota Fusion into sole possession of second place with a win on Sunday.
“Sometimes you rattle the post a couple times in a game. Sometimes you’re the better team and you still lose. It’s soccer,” said Minneapolis head coach Adam Pribyl.
“Our guys are starting to come together and are gelling. Just need to stay the course.” Turning an eye towards the opposing bench, Pribyl concluded, “Sometimes you take a bad beat. At least I’m not wearing a fedora.”
An elated, fedora-clad Kyle Bakas took pride in his team’s result.
“It was a must-win for us. The rest of the season are must-wins,” said Bakas. “We’ve dug ourselves a bit of a hole; we’re not where we want to be in the table. Gritty performances, solid goals, and good defending — that’s what will dig us out of that hole.”
“The game was really about effort; which team was willing to work the hardest,” offered Ben-Tal. “I’m disappointed about the goal that we allowed, but we can’t complain about a win. I’m really proud of the guys.”
Crows midfielder Samuel Ruiz-Plaza, who was in the thick of the action and played all 90-plus minutes for the Crows, was disappointed but resolute.
“It’s definitely tough. It was a much-needed three points,” said Ruiz-Plaza. “I thought we played well, but they’re good at what they do. Maybe an unlucky goal. We go out of here with our heads held high, and ready for the rest of the season.”
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