A crowd of nearly 600 people filled the stands at Augsburg College’s Edor Nelson Field on a beautiful summer evening on Friday, and Minneapolis City sent the home fans home happy thanks in part to a man-of-the-match performance from Brandon Bye.
The 6-foot-1, 175 pound forward — who recently finished his senior season at Western Michigan — is presently interning for Target Corporation in the Twin Cities. Looking for a team to play for this summer, it was Bye that reached out to Minneapolis City.
Having trained with the Crows for the past two weeks, Bye was given the start up top, flanked by Will Kidd and Isaac “Goose” Friendt. Ben Wexler played in the hole behind striker, with Abdallah Bah and Ian “Steve” Smith filling out the base of City’s midfield triangle. Across Minneapolis’ back line, from left to right, were Aaron Olson, A.J. Albers, Trey Benhart, and Charlie Adams, with Matt Elder in goal.
The Thunder’s injured defender Jeffrey Beck was serving as interim manager on Friday, following reports that former head coach Leo Guerrero had been forced to resign. Beck ran his teammates out in a 4-1-2-3, opting for a single holding midfielder, Hugo Gonzales, playing behind the central midfield paring of Gonzalo Ledesma and Mach Chuol. Brice Holiday and Michael Haight started on the wings, with Tyler Limmer at forward. Tyler Grilley started in goal behind a back four of Amadu Myers, Trevor Gervais, Jorge Lopez, and Sergio Leiva.
The Crows produced the game’s first scoring threat, as Bah found Albers with a cross in the fourth minute, but the center back headed wide of the near post.
Seven minutes later, the Thunder would draw first blood.
“I saw the outside back sliding in a little bit,” said Haight. “So I made my run and cut in.”
Meeting Haight’s run was a well-weighted ball played by Holiday that split Olson and Albers. Haight’s pace gave him a half-step advantage and enough of an angle that the winger was able to skip the ball past Elder and inside the far post.
“I saw the keeper came out,” noted Haight. “I hit it far post. Didn’t even watch it go in, because I fell down.”
For City, it was a familiar story. The Crows had managed a great share of possession, but their opponents were converting the scoring chances they created. The collective body language on Minneapolis’ bench following the goal seemed to ask, “This again?”
Thankfully for the home crowd, the Crows would claw their way back into the game in the 17th minute.
Olson won the ball in City’s defensive third and booted the ball long for Bye. The center forward did well to hold the ball up at midfield, and squared the ball into the path of a streaking Wexler, who was running up to join the play. Once on the ball, Wexler slowed his run, then played the ball out to his right for Friendt.
Notching his fourth goal of the week, Friendt cut inside of his mark and drove a shot at the far post from 25 yards out. Grilley managed to get a diving left hand on the ball, but the shot was struck with enough force the keeper was unable to keep the ball out of the net, and City had drawn level.
City continued to possess, and Sioux Falls looked to play long diagonals to its wings while mixing in a bit more of an attempt to play through the middle as the first half unfolded. Bye’s hold-up play brought a missing dimension to City’s attack, giving its cohort of wingers and midfielders time to join the attack and play out from around the outside of the penalty area.
Bye’s aforementioned hold-up play produced a pair of late chances, but City was unable to take the lead before halftime.
Then, in the 45th minute, Albers was ruled to have brought his elbow up when contesting for a ball, and was show a yellow card. The call drew protests from both City players and fans alike. Worse, Albers had previously been shown yellow in the 31st minute for kicking the ball away following a stoppage of play. Having earned a second caution, Albers was sent to the locker room early, and City was reduced to playing with 10 men.
Minneapolis head coach Adam Pribyl adjusted his formation coming out of the break, subbing Max Kent on for Wexler. Kent was inserted at center back, partnering Benhart, and City adopted something close to a 4-4-1 for the remainder of the game.
Five minutes after the restart of play, City looked like it had taken the lead.
Bah played the ball long for Bye, who ran between the Thunder’s center back pairing. Grilley came off his line to clear the ball but missed it, allowing Bye to run past him and tap the ball into an open goal. But the play was incorrectly ruled offside by the assistant referee, and the game remained even at 1-1.
Two minutes later, following a Thunder turnover in Sioux Falls’ half, City worked the ball from its right to left flank with three quick passes. The ball wound up at the feet of Will Kidd, who attempted to get around his mark on the edge of the area, but his attempt at what looked like a cross was deflected. The ball looped over Grilley and struck, through the side netting, the retracted wheel used to move the goal, and bounced back out where it was cleared.
The collective remonstration from multiple City players near the back post were unable to convince either the referee or his assistant that the ball had broken the plane of the goal line.
Kidd would take matters into his own hands in the 57th minute.
Bye, working along the left edge of Grilley’s penalty area, managed to hold off a pair of defenders and create enough space to to drive in a low cross. The ball was then one-touched into the center of the net by Kidd who had arrived from the opposite flank, giving City its first lead of the game at 2-1.
Ledesma nearly leveled the game in the 71st minute. With City caught in transition, the midfielder was given space 30 yards from goal, and opted to blast a shot on target. Catching City and Elder by surprise, the ball shook the crossbar and deflected up and behind the frame for a goal kick.
On the ensuing possession for City, the ball found its way to Olson. Looking up, the full back bisected the Sioux Falls back line, playing Bye in on goal. The forward collected the ball with a defender gaining on him, and coolly rolled the ball into the corner of the net past Grilley as the goalkeeper dove to his left.
“[Olson] played me a really nice ball,” said Bye. “When we switched the field, I made my run. Aaron led me perfectly, right on my right toe. I put it away; he played a hell of a ball.”
The Crows might have made it 4-1 in the 82nd minute when Bye played second-half substitute Whitney Browne in on goal. However, Grilley came out of his penalty area and put in a center back-worthy tackle, standing Browne up as the winger attempted to dribble around him.
To close out the game’s final moments, City relied on the threat of Browne’s pace up top, and dropped Bye into its back line, looking to protect its penalty area against long passes played in at height.
“I’m proud of he guys. To go a man down, again, and for them to fight and keep on working. We created more chances than we did with a full squad,” said Pribyl.
“I think it’s a mentality, and soccer is a mental game.” Pribyl continued, “You’re pinned down, and you start release guys into spaces, so maybe that’s part of it. Maybe we’ll just start out games with 10 guys now.”
“I think for a while Minneapolis City did a good job of possessing the ball around us — even when they had 10 men,” noted Beck. “We just couldn’t get the ball or apply the pressure that we needed to. Unfortunately, we had a couple of lapses that resulted in goals.”
On stepping in as interim head coach on short notice, Beck said, “It’s been tough. That’s a really big burden to get around. We’ve had different people coaching all week. I’m a player who’s stepping in to coach right now because of an injury.”
“We’re trying to come together and overcome this hurdle. Hopefully we can get a coach behind us that can unite us, so we can keep progressing.”
“We fought until the end, but things just didn’t go our way,” added Haight. “On to the home rematch. Hopefully we’ll get three points there.”
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