Will Kidd and Garga Nyuah dealt first-half blows to seal the final result, but the ones that didn’t land painted a more realistic portrait of the 90-minute showdown between the BlueGreens and the Crows at foggy Denfeld.
Though neither team went looking for a draw at any point, it was a fair result in the end, considering how even the play was throughout the match and how many opportunities went begging as tired legs set in during the second half.
“It was a pretty even game,” Duluth head coach Joel Person said. “I thought we dominated possession for the most part, although in the second half it evened out there a little bit. I really do think our schedule has started to catch up with us, the fact that we’ve played so many games so early, with the U.S. Open Cup games. And having so many of them on the road as well, I think we start to get fatigued. I try to make as many changes as possible, which helps, but I still think we struggled a little bit fatigue-wise in that second half.”
The hosts kicked off in their home opener, but City looked a bit hungrier in the early goings. Branden McGarrity caused some discomfort for the BlueGreens back line five minutes in, and forced Duluth keeper Jan Hoffelner out to smother the ball.
City went through on goal a few minutes later, but Hoffelner impressed again with a timely diving save.
Kidd finally turned in the opener for the Crows in the 23rd minute. After taking down a long through-ball over the top, Kidd shrugged past his marker in the box and held off the challenge before slotting the ball to Hoffelner’s left from just outside the six.
It didn’t take long for the BlueGreens to return the favor, however, and in the 37th minute, Nyuah stuck home the equalizer after a nice bit of work from Sora Wakabayashi.
In Duluth’s most composed foray of the half into the City box, Wakabayashi carefully rolled the ball into the penalty area, then touched off to Nyuah, who tucked away neatly for 1-1.
The BlueGreens opened the second half how they ended the first, with a tighter grip on the game, though both sides continued to see chances come and go, especially after inserting fresh legs.
Martin Browne, who often spurred on the City attack in the first half, hooked a sizzling effort across the face of goal and just wide six minutes after the restart.
Younger brother Whitney Browne came on after the break, and on a City counterattack in the 63rd minute, the reigning NPSL Player of the Week pulled away from the defense into a one-on-one with Hoffelner. But again the Duluth keeper came up with a crucial stop to keep scores level.
Sean Morgan came on in the 59th minute and came close for Duluth on a couple occasions later in the half, turning and firing over the top of the bar in the 69th and 79th minutes as the hosts kept up their search for another goal.
The Crows had one last chance to steal three points with a corner kick in the closing stages of extra time, but Duluth defense cleared the ball away as the official blew out the match.
For Person, the neutral result comes at a time when his squad’s depth is being tested in earnest, with several key players still missing from the lineup.
“We’re also dealing with some injury stuff,” Person said. “We’re really deep, so we can absorb it really well, but we’ve lost Ricardo (Ramos), we’ve lost Faz (Kyle Farrar). Losing basically our top two scoring threats, that does hurt us a little bit. You’ve seen that in the last couple games. But overall, in a very short period of time, we’ve made a lot of progress defensively, we’ve made a lot of progress with our team shape, we’re sorting stuff out when it comes to different player combinations, so we’re making progress. I just obviously would have liked three points instead of one.”
The BlueGreens and Crows came into the weekend’s marquee North Conference matchup in firm standing, tied with the most goals scored in conference matches (10) and with the highest goal differential (+6). With the draw, both clubs remain unbeaten and in contention for the title, but both lost ground to VSLT FC, which picked up its fourth win of the young season to take control atop the North table.
If three road matches to start the season wasn’t enough, the BlueGreens get back on the bus again for their next two games.
“It is what it is,” Person said. “The challenge is in front of us, and we just have to step up and meet the challenge. I think we’re capable of doing it, but I’ve got to be pretty clever as a coach as far as resting guys and rotating guys. Again, we had an opportunity to play one or two more guys that hadn’t seen any time at all tonight, and we’re doing a really good job of that. I think that’s saving us right now with the schedule we’ve had.”
Duluth (1-0-3) travels to play Dakota Fusion on Wednesday, and the Crows (2-0-2) visit conference-leading VSLT FC on Saturday.
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