By Kyle Eliason/Minneapolis City SC
First-half showers gave way to beach-sand rippled clouds that stretched across the horizon. A one-goal halftime lead for the hosts gave way to a six-goal win come the final whistle. Max Stiegwardt scored his fourth-career goal against the Dakota Fusion FC in NPSL play. And Minneapolis City used its home opener to improve to 2-0-0 on the young season as a pair of Crows recorded second-half braces in the victory.
For midfielder Lionel Vang, an evening at Augsburg College’s Edor Nelson Field was a homecoming. The former Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year finished his Auggies career tied for fifth place in program history with 27 goals as well as tied for fifth with 16 assists.
“Amazing. I feel like I’m at home,” said Vang. “Been here for four years, didn’t plan on being back on this field, but I love this small field to play on. [It’s] perfect, for me.”
Floating between Minneapolis City’s first and second teams in previous summers, Vang was unsure of if he would be in the Twin Cities following graduation, but the events of 2020 led Vang to stick around – much to the Crows’ delight.
Vang came close to scoring a number of times, recording the game’s first shot on goal and producing a few near misses – one by mere inches – before finally adding his name to the scoresheet in the 70th minute.
“Coaching at Bethel [University] for so long, I’ve gone against Lionel. It’s been so frustrating and he’s only gotten better,” said Crows head coach Matt Van Benschoten. “He’s so hard to get off the ball. Unbelieve performance – that first goal, just a rocket. There’s a reason the goalie didn’t move.”
Following that first score with another just four minutes later, Vang beat his man off the dribble inside the Fusion’s penalty area to draw a penalty. One he would smack past goalkeeper Jan Rosado with no shortage of confidence.
“The second half came and my coaches were telling me to drive at players – that’s my strength,” Vang noted. “I like passing the ball, so it’s not something I do all the time, but I just started running at dudes and creating chances.”
Also receiving instruction at halftime to take the initiative was Crows center forward Medo Youssef.
“When he gets decisive he gets really good, and you saw that literally in the first 45 seconds of the second half,” said Van Benschoten.
Pouncing on an errant Fusion pass, Youssef drove towards goal, dropped his shoulder in a shift-weight feint, then tucked the ball inside the far post from a narrow angle to give City a two-goal lead.
“I see myself as a second-half player, reading the game in the first half and implementing in the second,” offered Youssef. “It’s all about spaces and my moment. For my second goal, I noticed they weren’t following me when I was peeling off. I communicated that with Jonah [Garcia], and he was able to find me with a perfect ball.”
In the 60th minute, Youssef would notch that second goal of the night and team-leading third of the season. Executing a lovely trap and turn, Youssef put laces to a ball he sent off the underside of the crossbar to widen the Crows’ lead to three.
Joining up with City ahead of the canceled 2020 season, Youssef had to wait to take the field for the Crows in NPSL play, but is making an immediate impact. He also enjoyed his first home game as a Crow in front of an announced crowd of 780 fans that braved the elements.
“I was just saying I haven’t played in front of that in a while, since my college days.” said Youssef. “Great fans, great atmosphere, and we’re just glad to get the three points.”
The victory was the second straight in which City’s opponent incurred a red card in the first half. On the night, five of the Crows’ six goals followed Aaron Pike’s 26th-minute sending off for incurring a second yellow card.
“You have to play with whatever’s in front of you,” Van Benschoten said. “Obviously, again, red card changes the game. But even without it, we were planning to dominate this game. I don’t mean to be cocky about it, but we watch tape, we know what we can do on the field, and I think that’s starting to come out. With our front three, and even the guys we bring off the bench, they’re hard to defend – especially in one-on-one situations. They’re going to draw fouls and they’re going and they’re going to cause problems.”
Photo Credit: Daniel Mick Photography