For the Dragons, the win was their third in four contests, allowing the TwinStars to finish the first half of the conference schedule in the top half of North standings. Currently in fourth place, Minnesota is only two points back of second place and a playoff berth.
Minneapolis slid to sixth place with the defeat, but amid a congested table, is only three points back of a playoff berth with seven games to play.
The Crows came out in their preferred 4-2-3-1 with Matt Elder in goal. Aaron Olson, Trey Benhart, Nate Engel and Charlie Adams comprised the back four. Ian “Steve” Smith sat in front of defense, with Abdallah Bah the No. 8 to Martin Browne Jr.’s No. 10. Up top, Will Kidd and Isaac “Goose” Friendt flanked Brandon Bye.
The Dragons made use of their recently-adopted 5-3-2. Karim Darbaki and Chase Wright formed a strike partnership ahead of the midfield trio of Ethan Pitre, Grant Dumler and Lawrence Kwazema. At the back, wing backs Brian Chapman and Benjamin Miller bookended the trio of Emmanuel Brown, Adama Keita and Jonah Garcia. Sean Teske started between the posts.
The game opened with the hosting TwinStars in control for the first 15 to 20 minutes, as the Dragons held more possession and threatened City’s goal with greater frequency. The TwinStars offered a lot of freedom to their wing backs with both pushing forward to support the attack. Up top, Darbaki was given a free role, and the forward popped up in a number of surprising spots — in front of defense to collect the ball from deep, way out wide on the touchline to help maintain possession — as the game unfolded.
In the 17th minute, Wright one-timed a ball on the end of a run to the 18-yard box, calling Elder into action to keep the game scoreless.
Unlike the way several previous opponents set out to defend the Crows, the Dragons didn’t resort to a succession of fouls to break up the flow of play, and both teams endeavored to play attacking soccer. This did not stop a number of bodies from flying about as City worked its way into the contest and the game bogged down in midfield as the first half progressed.
In contrast to the focus of CIty’s attack in its previous match, there was a lack of service in to Bye who held the ball up so well against Sioux Falls. Nonetheless, City continued to grow into the game and looked the more likely of the two teams to score from the 35th minute onward.
Then, minutes before halftime, Wright received the ball on the left edge of City’s penalty area. Dribbling inside, the forward’s legs became entangled with those of either Adams or Elder (as both applied pressure). Sent to ground, Wright drew a foul and the Dragons were awarded a penalty kick.
Stepping up to the spot, Darbaki side-footed the ball to Elder’s left while the Crows’ keeper dove right. The TwinStars took a 1-0 lead.
Looking to level in the dying moments of the half, Olson made use of a long throw to find the head of Bye in Minnesota’s 18-yard box. Bye flicked the ball on for Kidd, but the winger’s header was glanced wide of the far post.
Excluding Darbaki’s penalty, the Dragons failed to threaten the Crows’ goal over the final 10 minutes of the first half. The first nine minutes of the second half were similar, and City continued to produce half-chances.
Then, in the 54th minute following a Minneapolis turnover, a short sequence of play and sustained pressure led to a Wright shot from 20 yards out which eluded Elder. Thankfully for the Crows, the effort only managed to rattle the crossbar.
The two goalkeepers would trade reaction saves in the following three minutes.
First, Friendt rounded his mark while attacking from the wing, and cut the ball back for Bye near the penalty spot. Bye struck the ball squarely but in the direction of Teske, who made use of quick hands and was able to bat the ball down.
The ball was eventually cleared by the Dragons. Hoofed up field, Engel misread the ball’s high bounce putting Chase Wright in on goal. One-on-one with Elder, the Minneapolis netminder produced a nice reaction save with his right hand as the ball sped towards the goal while level with his ear.
A few minutes later, the Dragons would double their lead via hard work and a favorable deflection.
“Most keepers, they’re not comfortable with the ball at their feet,” noted Darbaki. “You just wait for your moment, and for them to take a touch.”
Seizing such a moment, Darbaki elected to press Elder as the latter collected a back pass. The forward quickly closed the space between himself and Elder, and the keeper’s attempt at a clearance struck Darbaki’s body before ricocheting into the open goal, widening the Dragon’s lead to 2-0.
As City sought to battle its way back, Bye-to-Friendt became a productive combination. In the 67th minute, the former played the latter out wide, and Friendt worked his own narrow-angle shot. The winger flashed an effort low and wide of the far post with his right foot, narrowly missing scoring a fifth goal in three games.
Frustrations began to mount for Minneapolis. A second foul from behind committed by a Dragon on a Crow in short succession drew words from City head coach Adam Pribyl in the direction of the fourth official and the TwinStars’ bench. While this was unfolding, Elder had come off his line to collect a through ball with Karim Darbaki in pursuit, and the resulting contact led to questions from head coach Youssef Darbaki and assistant coach Gregory Amusu in the direction of Minneapolis’ bench. (Elder was ruled to have gathered the ball prior to contact and play was not interrupted.)
City continued to chase the game, which opened up as a result, and the two sides traded chances with both keepers making saves to keep the scoreline static at 2-0.
In the 89th minute, Tyler Oliver was issued a second yellow card (this time for pushing an opponent after a stoppage of play) and was sent off. The forward had replaced Chase Wright in the 57th minute, and earned his first caution for unsporting behavior in the 65th minute. The resulting man-advantage gave the Crows a bit of hope, though time was running out.
Time was running out so quickly, referee Will Reid whistled three times and waived his arms to signal the end of play with 89:30 showing on the scoreboard.
Confusion followed as the TwinStars bench emptied on to the field and City players and coaches demanded the remainder of the game be played.
After consulting with the fourth official, Reid cleared the field of everyone but the needed 21 players and resumed the game.
Three minutes of added time passed before the Reid informed players there was less than a minute remaining. Second-half substitute Dan O’Brien managed a final shot on target after a short clearance fell to him at the edge of the penalty area, but again Teske proved the equal of City’s efforts. The rebound was cleared and shortly thereafter, the referee brought play to a close for a second (and final) time.
“The first 20 minutes, we could have had five goals,” said Youssef Darbaki. “We missed a lot of opportunities; that’s part of the game. We scored two nice goals and I thought we played the first half very well. In the second half, City played well. The last few minutes, after we lost a man, they had a lot of pressure on us.”
“We’re still working on [the 5-3-2],” stated the head coach. “But the result was there, so I’m really pleased. I think the momentum is there. The players are learning. It’s a process.”
“It was a much needed win,” offered Karim Darbaki. “Sean [Teske] came up big with some good saves, but we won as a team. What we’ve struggled with this season is managing a game, but I think we did that.”
Like his teammate, the TwinStars’ keeper was also generous with his postgame comments.
“Adama [Keita], Jonah [Garcia], the center backs, the outside backs… they kept the ball out with their clearances. Aerially, they were great,” stated Teske.
Broadening his foucs, Teske continued, “[The standings] are so close anything can happen. We’re one game away from a playoff spot. We’ve got to take each game as it comes and see what happens.”
Pribyl, Minneapolis’ head coach, was brief with his thoughts.
“This the grind of the NPSL. We came out flat, not ready to play. I thought the effort was poor,” Pribyl said.
“Maybe someone’s girlfriend broke up with them, maybe someone’s f—ing grandma died, but they’ve got to hit the back of the net,” Pribyl concluded.
City’s captain Olson reflected, “We did get beat in the midfield a little bit, and they had some fast runners up top. When it came down to it, they executed better than we executed.”
On how the Crows would turn things around ahead of Saturday’s Green Line Derby against Viejos Son Los Trapos, Olson answered. “Honestly: take a cold shower. I’m not sure if we’ve always had a training session scheduled for tomorrow, but we do now.”
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