On a sweltering Saturday afternoon at Uihlein Soccer Park, the Milwaukee Torrent blazed past the Minnesota TwinStars, 5-0, in the home opener of its inaugural season.
With the temperature in the 90s and even higher on the artificial turf of KOHLER Engines Stadium, the Torrent capitalized on a man advantage and poured in four second-half goals to notch their third win in three matches.
Head coach and owner Andreas Davi said he was pleased with not only the play on the field, but also the turnout and atmosphere in the stands.
“You’re happy with everyone who shows up,” he said. “Nobody else is doing this in Milwaukee. It was just amazing, unbelievable, all the support. It’s a start.”
With more than 650 fans in attendance for the initial home game, the Torrent, Milwaukee’s only professional soccer team and its first since 2004, gave them plenty to cheer about.
Forward James Weber scored the only goal of the first half, a patient, one-man effort where he collected the ball along the right end line in the box and, with no offensive support, blasted it into the upper corner of the net for his first tally.
While the Torrent held much of the possession against the TwinStars, who they beat in Minnesota on May 21 in their season opener, they couldn’t break through again in that half. Center back Drew Ruggles, a poised former USL player who won a championship with the Rochester Rhinos last year, was rugged and dominant in defense, a forceful winner of balls in the air and a brilliant long passer who showed his higher-level experience throughout the contest.
Minnesota midfielders Karim Darbaki and Ahmed Osman were dangerous in attack, displaying flashes of trickery and creativity with the ball. But, aside from a scorching shot that was saved off the post by Torrent goalkeeper Nick Barry, the TwinStars didn’t create many chances.
Because of the heat, there were two referee-mandated and much-needed water breaks before halftime, when Milwaukee went to the locker room with a 1-0 lead.
Almost immediately in the second half, though, the Torrent opened the flood gates. Davi, who the day before had expressed reluctance to substitute much, inserted Ian Bennett, an electric indoor star for the Wave, on the left wing, and the move quickly paid dividends.
Just minutes into the half, Bennett got the ball in the box and sent a shot toward the goal that struck TwinStars defender Bill Baye on the arm, resulting in a red card for Baye and a penalty kick for the Torrent. Midfielder Declan Rodriguez calmly converted the penalty, putting it into the left side netting for his second goal and a 2-0 lead.
In the 57th minute, Bennett got his first goal on a beautiful bit of combination play – and chemistry – between him and Weber. After defender Chris Kurth let the ball go through with a savvy dummy move, Weber got it at midfield, took a few touches and played a perfectly weighted pass to the on-running Bennett, who brought it into the box and unleashed a powerful strike to the near post for his first score.
Not long after, Ruggles received a yellow card for an overzealous challenge and was soon subbed out.
In the 77th minute, though, Bennett got his brace, taking a cheeky flick-touch from Weber, sprinting into the box and slotting it into the far corner for a 4-0 Torrent edge.
“It’s what I expected because you just know the quality of the players we have,” Davi said of his team’s performance.
Hungry for his hat trick, Bennett later rocketed a shot off the underside of the crossbar. With the TwinStars appearing utterly disheartened, Milwaukee, which subbed in more reserves, added a final score for good measure, created and unselfishly bequeathed by Bennett.
In the 84th minute, defender Logan Fye sent a long pass up the right sideline, Bennett claimed the loose ball and carried it into the box. A heavy touch on a cutback sent the ball too far from his reach – and potentially onto his un-favored left foot – so he left it for substitute midfielder Ignacio Baeza, who one-timed it into the back of the net.
“I’m a righty; the left works, too,” Bennett said afterward with a laugh. “But it’s always good to share.”
After a diving Barry save in the 87th minute preserved the shutout, the Torrent had a 5-0 victory in their home opener and a firm hold on first place in the NPSL’s Midwest Central Conference.
“It was kind of hard to come in with any expectations,” said Ruggles, who signed just days before the Torrent’s first match three weeks ago. “But now, three games in, expectations are high, standards are high.”
Bennett, a charismatic fan favorite with the Wave, said he was impressed, too, with the showing by Torrent supporters.
“They came out in this heat for a mid-day game, I’m not going to lie, I didn’t expect to see this many people,” he said. “It was a great atmosphere.”