Grand Rapids FC claimed its second 3-1 win in as many weeks on Friday evening, defeating Lansing United at Houseman Field to end the regular season with a victory and head into the NPSL Midwest Regional Playoffs on a nine-game undefeated streak in league play.
After a few early opportunities to each side, the game took an unexpected turn in the 13th minute when a player from each side saw red after an altercation, leaving the match 10-on-10 for the remaining 77 minutes plus stoppages.
“The red cards opened the game up a little bit,” said captain Tony Deakin. “When you lose a man and they lose a man there’s a little more space on the field so everyone had a little bit more freedom, which I thought was good, it was a little more exciting.”
After the brief delay for the sending off, it was Grand Rapids taking advantage of the increased open space on the pitch. In the 19th minute, a well-played give-and-go between forward Tyler Fischer and defender Trent Vegter saw the former in on goal. Fischer calmly slotted the ball into the bottom left corner of the net to give the Boys in Blue the 1-0 lead.
Lansing United responded in the 38th minute as Danny Cawley found the back of the net to tie the match at 1-1, which was the score through halftime.
Less than three minutes into the second half, GRFC reclaimed the lead. Controlling possession at the top corner of the box was midfielder Jared Timmer. Taking a few touches toward the center of the field as the Lansing defenders backed off, Timmer saw enough space to unleash a curling strike that hit the side netting for a beautiful goal.
“It kind of opened up for me,” said Timmer, who was named Man of the Match. “I don’t think they gave me the respect, if I was going to hit one or not. I hadn’t hit one yet in the game so I thought I’d try one out and see what happened.”
Lansing nearly knotted the match on two occasions. In the 72nd minute, a United cross was tapped just over the bar. Then, in the 80th minute, another opportunity saw seemingly half the goal open for a Lansing attacker, but GRFC keeper Noah Fazekas was able to scramble across to block the shot and keep Grand Rapids on top.
The Blues then finished the game off in the first minute of stoppage time. Forward Elmedin Zukic, less than 15 minutes into his season debut after rehabbing from a major injury, iced the game with a strike that split a Lansing defender and the goalkeeper for Grand Rapids’ final tally in the 3-1 win.
With the victory, Grand Rapids concluded its inaugural regular season in the NPSL Great Lakes West Conference with seven wins, four ties, and one loss. The Boys in Blue finished four points clear of second place AFC Ann Arbor.
GRFC now looks forward to the NPSL Midwest Regional Playoffs next weekend, which will be held at Houseman Field. Joining Grand Rapids in the regional is AFC Ann Arbor as well as two teams from the NPSL Great Lakes East Conference, Indy Eleven NPSL and AFC Cleveland.
On Friday, AFC Ann Arbor and AFC Cleveland open the action at 4:30 p.m., with Grand Rapids and Indy Eleven NPSL to follow at 7:30 p.m. The winners of Friday’s matches will face off in Saturday night’s regional final, which is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
“We’ve gathered enough information about (Indy Eleven),” said head coach George Moni. “We have to make sure that we are prepared emotionally, physically, and tactically for the challenge that lies ahead of us. If we put too much emphasis on their position, then we’ve forgotten about our strengths, and the most important thing for us is to utilize our strengths and use the atmosphere around us as a strength factor for the squad to perform.”