If Viejos Son Los Trapos are destined for greatness this season, destiny took its sweet time in delivering the message Wednesday night in Duluth.
In the end, and I mean the very end, it was Mauricio Mendoza Noches who hit send. His blistering strike from distance in the fourth minute of added time was the difference as VSLT FC made off like bandits with all the points in a dramatic 1-0 win over the BlueGreens.
VSLT (5-1-1) lived up to its reputation as a possession-oriented side in the first half. The visitors spent a good deal of time on the ball, recalibrating frequently, deliberately building the attack with short passing and fluid movement off the ball. The Duluth defense came ready for battle, however, and did well to snuff out most of the visitors’ forward-thinking plots.
On one occasion, Ryan Tyrer threw himself in harm’s way and got low to make a terrific block on a shot on goal midway through the half. Goalkeeper Jan Hoffelner was himself hardly tested until forced to punch clear a corner kick with two minutes remaining.
If there was a bright spot for the BlueGreens in the first 45 minutes, it had to be midfielder Joe Watt. The Englishman almost made a dent early in the match after fighting off his defender for space in the box, but he scuffed his first shot wide left.
Watt came close again in the 19th minute after being played through into the penalty area, but VSLT keeper Alejandro Quiriti rushed out to swat the ball off Watt’s foot at the last moment. His ensuing cross to the far post was then cleared away.
Duluth (2-1-4) really started to force the issue early in the second half, clearly looking to get on the board as quickly as possible after the restart.
Back in the starting lineup after an injury, Kyle Farrar often provided a hopeful target for his teammates going forward, but despite greater service into the box for the BlueGreens during the half, the VSLT defense had few problems holding its ground.
The hosts’ best chance arrived in the 78th minute, when the BlueGreens saw several opportunities in front of goal squandered in traffic before the ball fell to Dana Kowachek. Kowachek quickly chipped the ball back across the goal mouth for Santi Garcia Castro, whose header off the ground bounced toward the top left corner, only to be tipped over at the last second by a fully extended Quiriti.
Fifteen minutes later, just as it looked like another draw was in the cards, Noches put the match to rest. With VSLT on a last-gasp counter, Noches took advantage of a small gap in the defense and unleashed a searing blast from 30 yards out that found its way through the forest of legs into the bottom corner.
While an electrifying finish for the visitors, who along with Minneapolis City look like the NPSL North title favorites so far, the result should come as a reality check for the defending champions, whose title defense at present sees them bogged down in a fight to stay in the top half of the conference table.
Luckily for Duluth, five of its seven remaining matches are home games, all against teams not currently positioned to make the playoffs. But with the second half of the season underway, it’s crunch time for teams with title aspirations, and it will be crucial for the BlueGreens to win the rest of their home matches if they have any realistic hope of retaining their status as Kings in the North.
Next up, Duluth FC hosts Dakota Fusion in the teams’ third meeting of the season on Saturday.
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