This weekend, Keyworth Stadium will host three NPSL playoff matches, including two regional semifinal matches on Friday. Duluth FC will take on hosts Detroit City FC while AFC Ann Arbor faces the Dayton Dynamo.
In the evening’s first matchup, AFC Ann Arbor takes on the Dayton Dynamo. Both teams come in with plenty of momentum. Dayton have run into their form recently with two straight wins over conference champions Erie Commodores, including a 1-0 victory over Erie in the regional quarterfinals. For AFC Ann Arbor, their season has been a constant and consistent run of form, with a record of 12-1-1. The Mighty Oak’s 12 wins are tied with FC Arizona for the most wins in the regular season, and have the most wins of any team remaining in the playoffs.
AFC Ann Arbor center back Matthew Braem has been a key part to his team’s success and their stingy defense, which has conceded only nine goals in the regular season. Braem credits the team’s success to cohesiveness, and expects the same performance in the postseason.
“I think that the main reasons for our success is the fact that every single player has the same goal, which is benefiting the team as much as they can and I don’t think that anything has to change during the playoffs. We are confident and are sure of our talent, playoffs or not.”
While there’s little doubt in the strength of AFC Ann Arbor’s strength on defense, Braem notes that their advantage is not only within their backline.
“Goalkeepers and defenders often get the glory for clean sheets, but I think that it all starts from the forwards and the midfield line. The guys are tracking players and pressing all over the field, which makes our task way easier.”
For Braem and his teammates however, the playoffs are a different animal all together.
“We are pretty confident about our chances,” Braem commented. “However, in the playoffs, a game is a game and anything can happen, which is why we are mainly focusing on a game at a time and will see how far our run goes.”
For the Dayton Dynamo and Tate Robertson, he knows AFC Ann Arbor pose an intimidating challenge, but that doesn’t mean that the Bowling Green midfielder or his teammates are backing away from it.
“Ann Arbor’s obviously a very tough team,” Robertson said. “They are probably a better team on paper, but that’s paper. We think we can give them a real run for their money.”
Following a 1-0 win against Erie without forward Trey Lyle in the squad, Robertson recognizes a chance for a new impact on the game, but also knows he has to bring his best.
“Having (Lyle) back will be a big factor in scoring goals. I also have to play one of my best games.”
Robertson’s definition of a successful game from a personal standpoint is simple: feed forward Matt Kinkopf.
“Kinkopf is one of the fastest players in the league. If I can get him the ball a lot, I don’t know if anyone can catch him.”
The first semifinal could come down to the success of the Dynamo’s attacking talent. If they can make a big play and steal a goal, it could put the pressure on the Mighty Oak. If AFC Ann Arbor can contain both Lyle and Kinkopf, however, it will be a tough ask for Dayton to break through.
The nightcap of Friday’s semifinals brings together Duluth FC and Detroit City FC. DCFC is coming in off of a massive 5-1 win over Dakota Fusion FC, and they will be looking to build off of that momentum in front of their home fans.
Despite Detroit City FC hosting the match, the visitors bring in the top seed of the matchup as Duluth FC won the North Conference with an 8-2-4 record in the regular season.
Duluth FC are coming into the playoffs after already achieving one of their preseason goals.
“We were confident in ourselves the whole way that we could win our conference,” Duluth FC center back Gonnie Ben-Tal added. “And we expect ourselves to keep going, keep doing the things we’ve been doing the whole season.”
One of the biggest tasks for Ben-Tal and Duluth FC will be containing the talented Detroit City FC attack.
“We’re confident in ourselves enough to not worry too much about the opponent,” Ben-Tal continued. “They are definitely an exciting team and evidence of that is the way they beat Dakota Fusion FC 5-1. But I feel like we are ready, we have a pretty good team, offensively and defensively.”
While Detroit City FC has an exciting play style, Duluth FC boasts one of the most potent attacks in the league, notching a top-five goal differential with 42 goals. That strong attack also helps Ben-Tal out on defense.
“We have some fantastic players all over the field,” Ben-Tal said. “I believe defense is not just about the back four and the keeper, but it’s about every player doing everything he can to help his team maintain a clean sheet.”
Ben-Tal also noted how important it will be to for him to be aggressive and follow the game plan against DCFC’s attack.
Detroit City FC also feel like they have a good chance at advancing in the playoffs after recording their first-ever playoff game at Keyworth Stadium last week. Midfielder Douglas “Bakie” Goodman will play an important role in that DCFC attack.
“I personally need to continue helping out on both ends of the field,” Goodman commented.” If I work as hard as I can and give as much effort as possible, I know my teammates will do the same.”
Goodman’s teammates can also help him have a strong showing.
“We have some really great options that make it easy for a midfielder such as myself,” Goodman continued. “I know I can just give them the ball and they’ll make something happen.”
Goodman noted that the key to DCFC’s success will lie in their ability to play “extremely solid” along with capitalizing on any opportunities they have on offense. They clearly did that in their playoff win over the Fusion, dominating the Fargo side and keeping NPSL Golden Boot runner-up Jade Johnson off the scoresheet altogether.
While the Detroit City FC attack featuring Cyrus Saydee and Roderic Green can be devastating to the opposition, some still believe that this game could come down to Detroit City’s ability to keep the Duluth attack at bay.
Ben-Tal said the bye week has been very good for them, which could spell danger for their opponents this weekend as Duluth FC have lit up the scoreboard lately, winning their last three matches by a combined score of 18-3.
No matter which way these semifinals go, they all set up for what should be a thrilling regional final on Saturday, July 29th.