The Bluegreens began their NPSL North title defense Saturday with a match against Minnesota TwinStars FC in Minnetonka. Just like last year, the two sides battled to a draw in the season opener, with Duluth FC salvaging a point in the final stages of a 3-3 result this time around.
Duluth bagged the equalizer in the final minute, taking advantage of late-game chaos at the edge of the box. The referee ruled that the TwinStars keeper handled the ball outside the penalty area. A quickly taken free kick amid the confusion found Dana Kowachek, who scored and tied the match in a dramatic finish.
“The last 10 minutes of the game, we changed formation again to try and throw numbers forward to create an equalizer,” Duluth coach Joel Person said. “We might as well at least take a chance to score that tying goal rather than sit back and settle for a one-goal loss. So we pressed and it was a very interesting series of events to end the game. If it’s not an intentional hand ball, the ref doesn’t have to give a card, but I think everybody kind of paused thinking that the ref would. Arad [Lev Ari] just grabbed the ball, put it down at the spot, passed it to Dana, who just put it in an empty net.”
The Bluegreens have triumphed in two dramatic finishes to start their 2018 campaign, but Person has made it clear that he does not want winning late to become a habit.
“We cannot continue to do this every game,” he said. “We can’t continue to put ourselves in a situation where we have to have late-game dramatics in order to get a result. Hopefully we can clean up some of the mistakes that we’re having in the back and quit giving up quite so many goals.”
After feeling each other out to start, TwinStars gained an early advantage on a goal from Chase Wright in the 15th minute. The Duluth defense suffered another lapse six minutes later when Tyler Oliver doubled the lead for the Dragons. Despite dictating the run of play for the most part, the Bluegreens struggled to hit the target during the first half, and the hosts went into the break up 2-0.
“We started much better actually as compared to the game on Wednesday,” Person said. “We had control of the flow of the game the first 15 minutes or so. We weren’t that dangerous going forward within that time period, but we were keeping good possession of the ball, and unfortunately we had a bad giveaway in the back and they basically had a tap in for the first goal, completely against the run of play. So we went down 1-0, and unfortunately, not too long after that, they countered us and scored a second. So even though we felt like we had way more possession, all of a sudden we were down 2-0 going into halftime.”
Duluth bounced back in the second frame, however, and team captain Kyle Farrar put the visitors on the board with a goal in the 63rd minute.
In the 69th minute, second-half substitute Ivan Adika pulled the Bluegreens level.
“We had to redo some things at halftime, as far as our formation was concerned, and we made a couple personnel changes just to get some fresh legs out there,” Person said. “I could definitely tell that the players who played the full game on Wednesday, they were definitely slow and sluggish, and they had a little bit of a hangover from that game. That actually really helped us. We made those changes at halftime and came out in the second half, and were able to pressure them and win the ball back and create some scoring opportunities. We ended up putting two in to tie it 2-2.”
TwinStars were awarded a penalty several minutes later, and Karim Darbaki promptly dispatched the spot kick to put the hosts back on top 3-2 with just over a quarter hour to play. Darbaki’s tally looked increasingly like the game winner until Kowachek stole a point at the death.
Next up for Duluth, the club looks to make history again as it hosts USL side Saint Louis FC in the second round of the Open Cup on Wednesday.
The Bluegreens visit La Crosse Aris FC on Saturday.
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