Grand Rapids FC experienced some extreme highs and lows during its first time as NPSL regional playoffs host. Although the team got off to a good start by beating Indy Eleven NPSL 1-0 in the semifinals, the Michigan team’s run fell in the final against AFC Cleveland.
Yet, while Grand Rapids fell short of the gold, it can’t be denied that the club put together an event that was both memorable and inviting. Take for example the attendance on Friday: Nearly 7,000 fans were at Houseman Field to support their team, with the Grand Army making its presence felt every second of the match.
For the local players there was the obvious disappointment following the loss against the Royals but there were also several positive takeaways from the performance, at least according to head coach George Moni.
“We came as a new team in the league, we won the conference. We set up new expectations,” said Moni. “Our goal was to lay the foundation for bigger and better things to come. We also wanted to change the [fan] culture and last night was big proof of their committed support, their passion, and their desire. They have been like the 12th man in the field.”
The fan support was palpable not just throughout the match but after Saturday’s final match. The fans were not only respectful enough to clap for AFC Cleveland following the match, but also continued to cheer for their team in an effort to lift their spirits.
Noble Sullivan, who scored the winning goal on Friday against Indy Eleven, shared his thoughts on the relation between the club and its fans.
“We’re all like a family. ‘One City, One Club’ is our motto, so I’m sure the fans felt it [the loss] just as much as we did, but credit to them for getting us this far,” he stated.
While players were heartbroken and trying to make sense of the loss, several children came to console them, with one child stating that she didn’t care that the Grand Rapids had lost, that they were “still the best players in the world”. Such a heartwarming moment was enough to not only melt the hearts of the players, but also take some of the sting out of the loss.
“That’s big,” said Sullivan. “It means everything. This was a grassroots club – we started with those very fans donating their time, their energy, and their money, and hopefully we rewarded them with a good season.”
If their support at the playoffs is anything to go by, the Grand Rapids FC fans know that they have a good product in their backyard. With a solid team, a good facility, and even better fans, all the pieces are in place for the club to continue to grow in the same organic matter that it has thus far.