By John Peter/Michigan Stars FC
A revitalized Michigan Stars FC opened their 2019 season with a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to the 2018 Great Lakes Conference champion AFC Ann Arbor.
Both teams were evenly matched heading into the first half with neither side having an advantage.
Ann Arbor had the first shot on target in the 11th minute while the Stars countered two minutes later with a header off a free kick that was saved by the Ann Arbor goalkeeper.
Ann Arbor missed on another chance in the 25th minute as Stars keeper Keith Arndt won the race, sliding to snatch the ball from the Ann Arbor forward who was looking at a wide-open net.
Stars midfielder Michel Allou received a yellow card for goalkeeper interference in the 34th minute, which would lead to a major point in the second half for the home team.
The first half ended in a scoreless tie, the whistle blowing with one player from each team on the turf after coming together going up for a header.
Both teams came out hard in the second half with Ann Arbor missing on a great opportunity in the first minute as Stars keeper Keith Arndt swatted away a ball that was sent across the front of the goal. Arndt would make another save in the 58th minute on a hard shot from about 10 yards out.
The Stars attacked in the 63rd minute with forward Steven Juncaj bringing the ball down the left wing and crossing the ball to Allou, who put the ball on net only to have his shot cleared out the backline by an Ann Arbor defender.
The Stars scored on the ensuing corner kick as the ball was headed to the pitch by Stars defender James Abraham and directed into the goal by Juncaj, giving the Stars a 1-0 advantage over the champs.
Disaster would strike the home team as Allou collided with an Ann Arbor defender as both players went up for a header. Allou received his second yellow card, and an automatic ejection, putting the Stars a man down with 20 minutes left to go in the game.
The Ann Arbor side ramped up their attack, taking advantage of the extra man, with Jordan Montoya driving the ball past Arndt in the 76th minute evening the game at one goal apiece.
The Stars continued to press just missing on a great chance in the 81st minute on a header off a free kick that went as just wide of the goal.
Montoya struck again for Ann Arbor receiving the ball from a corner kick and placing it in the upper righthand corner past the outreaching arms of Arndt, giving the visitors a 2-1 lead that would hold until the final whistle.
“It was great game, a great effort,” said Michigan Stars FC head coach George Juncaj. “I’m very proud of the way we played, especially since we are a brand-new team. Everybody came together and we were up 1-0 in the second half. I think the red card changed the game.”
Stars captain James Abraham tended to agree.
“I thought it was a good game,” said Abraham. “It was pretty even. They had a little more of the ball, but we looked really good on the counter attack. I thought as a team we defended fantastically. The red card changed it but other than that I think it was a real solid game. Both teams were pretty passionate and pretty strong. It was fifty-fifty and could have gone either way.”
Michigan Stars FC defender Eimil Hennes was named Man of the Match.
The Stars next welcome Detroit City FC on Sunday, May 12th at 7:00 pm at Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Pontiac.
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Juncaj