By Minneapolis City SC
Rain and the briefest touch of sleet saw through-balls skitter o’er wet slip-skid grass. Thumbs numbed above gameday tweets. The wind whipped. A head and chin split, but come nine o’clock, the night’s points were not. Three goals begot three points for traveling Crows, who return to Minneapolis with a clean sheet in tow.
“We talked about it at the beginning of the year – we know there’s going to be some adversity,” said Crows head coach Matt Van Benschoten. “At halftime when it was zero-zero – a real ugly game – that was the message. ‘This is that adversity. We need to push into it. We need to keep trying and going forward.’ We got three goals in the second half and that’s exactly what we wanted.”
Just prior to the break, in the 42nd minute, a tackle helped tip the tilt in Minneapolis City’s favor.
In the official league scoresheet, the SFP acronym for “serious foul play” is scribed next to Sioux Falls Thunder midfielder Brennan Haggerty’s name, the result of a challenge on Crows forward Will Kidd that drew red.
Play had been fairly even up to that pivotal point. The Crows held more possession in their opponents’ half than did the Thunder, but in picking their spots, Sioux Falls threatened on the break. Matt Elder was forced into a handful of saves, and Minneapolis’ back four of Bah, Garcia, Murakami, and Adams dug heels into softened sod when pushed into their own eighteen.
In the immediate wake of the sending off, it was the Thunder that rallied to close the opening 45 with intent. One cross found a City defender and then the post. Another had to be headed out. Both resulted in corners. Though bent, Minneapolis’ defense would not break, holding on until the end of the half.
“We’ve worked for four months trying to play more possession soccer, breaking lines,” noted Van Benschoten. “You just can’t do it on this field. We had to say, ‘Look, it’s going to be ugly. We’ve got to go a little-bit more direct. Our front three with Will Kidd, Medo [Youssef] and Justin Oliver, we know they’re really good. So let’s get them the ball and see what happens.”
The end of a 663-day NSPL scoring drought was that happening. Winning 2-1 over Med City FC in the first round of the 2019 Midwest Region playoffs on July 16 of that year, the Crows would be blanked in a season-ending loss to Detroit City FC their next time out. Larger concerns saw the 2020 season canceled.
The 53rd minute saw a Crow tickle the twine for the first time in 22 months as former Seattle Sounders U23 forward Mohamed Youssef found the back of the net. The man-advantage was giving Minneapolis just enough space to seize control of the game.
Not enough space was found on the wing in a frightening instant eight minutes later. An awkward collision above uneven ground saw Oliver and Thunder defendsman Bigirimana Omari both fall forward at speed, the former a half-step ahead of the latter. Omari’s chin lacerated Oliver’s forehead and vice versa. A bloodied Oliver was able to depart in pursuit of stitches under his own power after both players received attention from the Sioux Falls athletic trainer.
In his place came former Crows foe Mark Boquin. The forward onced turned out for Viejos Son Los Trapos FC to score against City in NPSL play, and now dons the black, white, and pink of Minneapolis.
Among the oldest field players on City’s roster, no one has of yet informed Boquin of this fact.
Finding space down the touchline in the 78th minute, Boquin collected the ball in his own half while glancing upfield. He then, with ball on foot, sprinted two-thirds the length of the field, around a Thunder defense stuck either in gear or grass, before squaring the ball for Kidd to create City’s second goal.
In an imperfect world, the pithy quote on offer is not always for the man who dazzled.
“At halftime, I told Kidd that scoring a goal after drawing a red-carded foul was an Xbox achievement,” recalled Crows assistant coach Derric Johnson.
Veteran Crow forward Klenton “Miles” Stockman-Willis used a run and his own rebound to put the contest beyond Sioux Falls’ reach with a goal in the dying minutes.
“Not the easiest…not the cleanest game,” said Van Benschoten. “We got the three points and that’s what we needed.”
No City players could be found for the postgame interview. By the time the author finished a three minute exchange with the Minneapolis head coach, all his charges had vanished into the dark of the parking lot beyond Yankton Trail Park’s Field 11, where waiting vans offered an escape from the night’s permeatingly damp chill.
With OEM heaters in rented Ford Transits restoring feeling to toes, Elder is reported to have offered a reaction.
“I’m too excited to sleep on the way back,” Elder said. “I’ve got three points and eight friends!”
Photo Credit: Daniel Mick