By Ryan Tigner/Duluth FC
The highly anticipated matchup between the two top teams in the NPSL’s North Conference definitely lived up to the expectations. Med City’s defense was solid but the Blue Greens pulled away in the last few minutes in regulation and held on for the 2-1 victory.
A single point now separates Med City and Duluth in the standings. However, the Mayhem have played and tied in an additional match so the BlueGreens are in a perfect position to knock the Mayhem off and reclaim first place.
The game started out fast but not as aggressive as other matchups. The teams were clearly trying to feel each other out. This did not have an effect on the pace of the game as this one felt like it was in fast forward during some moments. Both clubs had chances at scoring early in the match but those opportunities were definitely scarce. Both defenses were on their heads tonight but in different ways.
Chances became more apparent as time went on and fatigue set in. Med City had an absolute blessing of a chance before the first half ended on a corner kick. The kick sailed right between two BlueGreen defenders. They were able to get a clean look at it, and it went a little high on a miraculous deflection by Brendan Dally.
These chances kept building for Med City in the second half as the Duluth defense continued to look like they were wearing down. That could have led to the mistake of a handball in the 48th minute which set up the Mayhem for a free kick right outside the box. Cristobal Gutierrez would take it and hit it off the three-man wall. The ball would then roll right back to Gutierrez, and he would chip it over that same wall of players. The ball plopped right to an awaiting Andres Garcia who put it away, giving Med City a 1-0 lead.
That goal seemed to refocus the BlueGreens as they began playing like a rejuvenated team. Chances started to ramp up, and the Duluth offense really started to find a way to work the ball around their defenders. Jake Starling, as he has done all season long, sent a magnificent pass to Felipe Arteaga who used this opportunity to cross up and through two Mayhem defenders. He then flipped the ball over to Sam Thornton who had entered the game just a minute before. He put on a wild stutter step to create some room and scored to tie things up at 1-1 in the 64th minute.
Things would stay tied up for a while even though both sides started to create many scoring chances on both ends of the field. You could feel the intensity pick up with every shot. Both goalkeepers started to play a crucial role as they both knocked down crossing passes and seemed to be stopping any shot that came their way.
In the 89th minute a great offensive possession helped Cian Gantley get the ball in the corner of the Mayhem’s box. Seeing the defender slightly out of position, Gantley decided to drive against the baseline. The defender reacted a little too late and committed a slide tackle from behind that led to a penalty kick. The game was then put on Thornton’s shoulders to make the go-ahead goal. He lined up the shot and decided to go to the bottom left corner. The keeper guessed left too but it was a little too late. The ball hit the back of the net for the game-winning goal.
Duluth’s next match will be another away game Wednesday, June 29th against Dakota Fusion FC at Jim Gotta Stadium at 7:00 pm.
Photo Credit: Holden Law/Duluth FC