An amazing turnaround season for Dayton Dynamo FC ended in the Midwest Region Semifinals against AFC Ann Arbor on Friday night in Detroit. Dayton played Ann Arbor to a scoreless draw for more than 90 minutes, but the region’s highest seed eventually took a 1-0 victory. AFC Ann Arbor’s Matt Braem scored a free kick in stoppage time to prevent the Dynamo from advancing to the Midwest Region Final.
“Obviously the loss is pretty heartbreaking, but I was very proud of the way we competed, particularly in the second half,” said Dynamo Head Coach Dan Griest. “If we could have made one or two of our chances count late on in the second half, we may have been able to pull that one out.”
Ann Arbor dictated much of the play in the opening half. The Great Lakes champions used speed, quick ball movement, and overlapping runs to penetrate into the attacking third. The result was a number of good looks at goal, and Dayton goalkeeper Ryan Hulings was forced to make three outstanding saves in the first half to keep the Dynamo in the match.
It took most of the opening period for Dayton to settle into a rhythm and create scoring opportunities for itself. The best chance came late in the first half. Midfielder Tate Robertson sent forward Matt Kinkopf behind the Ann Arbor back line. Kinkopf was able to take a touch or two before smashing a strike wide of the frame.
“They were obviously the aggressor in the first half and controlled much of the period,” said Griest. “We had expressed to the guys that we wanted to sit in and try to stay organized and see what they had so as not put ourselves behind the eight ball by conceding a goal early.”
Dayton played much more evenly with Ann Arbor throughout the second half, keeping more possession and limiting Ann Arbor’s shots on goal. Robertson was involved in two plays, both of which nearly gave the Dynamo the lead. Defender Peyton Mowery got on the end of a corner kick served by Robertson, but the ball went off the side Mowery’s head and wide of the far post. On a separate occasion, a close-range shot by Robertson was scooped up by Ann Arbor goalkeeper TJ Tomasso.
“I think in the second half you saw us carry the game a bit more as we opened things up a bit and began to commit some more numbers forward since we felt we had a pretty strong understanding of their strengths and weaknesses and a bit more insight into trying to exploit them a bit more,” said Griest.
He continued, “From the film, we knew that under pressure they were going to be pretty direct, and I think you saw that in the second half. We moved our line of confrontation a bit higher up the field and began to put their two center backs, who are tremendous players, under a bit more pressure, which forced them to play a bit quicker and turn some more balls over to us. I thought our back line did a great job of challenging the longer balls we forced them to play and our midfield was able to pick up a lot of the second balls and give us some sustained possession. It all went to plan, as we created two very good chances right around the 75th and 80th minutes that if we capitalize on maybe we can see that game out and make the finals.”
The underdog Dynamo kept the match at a scoreless draw until after the 90th minute, but in stoppage time Dayton was whistled for a rough tackle just outside the top of the penalty box. Braem stepped up and bent the free kick around Dayton’s wall, just beyond the reach of the outstretched hands of a diving Hulings.
The Dynamo pressed to find an equalizer in the seconds that remained, but Ann Arbor remained composed and was able to run out the clock.
The Ann Arbor game-winner may have been a bit of poetic justice. A late free kick against the Erie Commodores in the first round of the playoffs last weekend propelled Dayton to the semifinals.
“It is quite the swing of emotions from winning at Erie in the last minute a week again to losing in the same fashion in the last minute this week, and unfortunately that is the nature of the game,” said Griest. “Sometimes the bounces go your way, and sometimes they don’t. It is about learning and growing from it and doing all we can to ensure we get back there again next year and have another opportunity.”
The loss bounced Dayton from the NPSL playoffs, but could not detract from an otherwise successful season for the Dynamo.
- Dayton finished with a record of 6-3-3 in the 2017 regular season, after finishing 1-10-1 in 2016.
- The Dynamo did not lose an NPSL regular season contest in front of a home crowd in 2017.
- Including the playoffs, Dayton won 2 of 3 matches against Eastern Conference champions, Erie Commodores.
- The Dynamo advanced to the playoffs for the first time in club history, and won its first playoff match.
“I am tremendously pleased with our overall efforts this season,” said Griest. “Coming into the season I don’t think anyone, outside of ourselves, was expecting anything from us, so to see the hard work and effort pay off and see us take the league by surprise . . . is truly remarkable.”
He added, “I believe we have a very young and hungry core group of players, so I am optimistic that with a bit of recruiting on everyone’s part we can use this season and its notoriety as a springboard to winning an Eastern Conference title and Midwest championship next season. I could not be more proud of the players and staff as a whole, and I am extremely excited about seeing what lies ahead for us down the road.”