Grand Rapids FC took four out of six possible points in a pair of weekend league match-ups to stay within striking distance of the top of the conference table. With eight games played and four remaining in the Great Lakes West Conference, GRFC has 15 points and sits two points behind league-leading AFC Ann Arbor.
The Boys in Blue began with their second contest of the season against Kalamazoo FC on Friday evening. On two occasions in the game, Grand Rapids had to come back from a goal deficit to tie Kalamazoo FC in what finished as a 2-2 draw.
In the 23rd minute, KZFC opened up the scoring as a through ball caught the Grand Rapids defense flat footed and put Amadou Cisse on to goal. The ensuing shot from Cisse was touched by GRFC goalkeeper Noah Fazekas but not fully blocked, and the ball found its way into the net for a 1-0 lead to the visitors.
Near the end of the first half, GRFC saw a pair of free kicks from Lito Esquivel and Mark Barone threaten the Kalamazoo goal, but neither found the back of the net as KZFC took the lead into halftime.
“At halftime we went in and we talked and we said it wasn’t good enough,” said defender Nick Groenewold. “We came out slow, came out kind of lazy, it definitely wasn’t the kind of quality that we have. So we wanted to come out firing, we did that and put one away early.”
The Boys in Blue responded just after the opening whistle for the second half. Winning an early corner, Lito Esquivel played the ball to the near post to Mark Barone, who re-directed the ball past the Kalamazoo keeper to tie the game at 1-1.
“It was supposed to be a set play hit to the big guys in the box,” said Barone, who was named Man of the Match. “But I started making the run, Lito put it off one bounce and I was lucky enough to finish it.”
Kalamazoo re-took the lead just minutes later. In the 53 rd minute, a long pass found the feet of winger Brandon Bye who put it into the back of the GRFC net.
“We didn’t really pin them if we had numbers high, so it kind of falls on the entire team for letting them score on two counter attacks even though we created a majority of the chances,” said Barone.
“We prepared our team during our training sessions and today, but I don’t think it worked the way we planned,” said head coach George Moni. “They came to our goal twice and scored two goals, and we made two bad mistakes defensively. We should have done better in shaping ourselves to intercept the passes, to double team. We should have been a little bit better organized.”
In the 61st minute, Grand Rapids again tied the match, and for the second time in the game, it was Esquivel setting up the goal. Chipping the ball over the backline from just above the top of the box, Esquivel found forward Joe Broekhuizen who slotted the ball into the lower right corner of the net to put the game at 2-2.
In the dying moments of the match, GRFC had two more looks on frame but could not find the go-ahead goal as the game ended in a 2-2 draw.
“If you re-watch the video of the game, you’ll see we out possessed the opposition, we created a lot of chances, but at the same time, got to give credit to them,” said Moni. “They were better organized defensively this time, they were sharper, and on the other hand, we didn’t take advantage of our opportunities.”
On Sunday, Grand Rapids traveled to Ohio to face the Dayton Dynamo for the first time this season.
The Blues took the lead in the 19 th minute. Receiving a through-ball from winger Tyler Fischer, forward Scott Doney scored his fourth league goal of the season as he slipped behind the defense and beat the Dynamo keeper one-on- one to give GRFC the early lead.
Grand Rapids then saw fantastic play from keeper Noah Fazekas who kept Dayton off the scoreboard in the 35th minute, meeting an opposing attacker at the back post and deflecting the ensuing shot over the cross bar.
In the second half, GRFC saw a number of opportunities early on. A long free kick from Peter Brown found Fischer in on goal in the 55th minute, but Fischer’s shot was saved by the Dayton keeper.
Minutes later, Doney nearly grabbed a second goal as he chested down a long cross from Nick Abdoo and placed the ball toward frame. The shot ended up just wide, however, as GRFC continued to hold onto the slim 1-0 advantage.
Fazekas, who was name Man of the Match, was called into action on a number of occasions late in the match, including a 74th minute shot from distance that he tipped just wide. The GRFC keeper and the back line then held Dayton at bay for the remaining quarter-hour, earning the clean sheet, and alongwith it, a victory for the Boys in Blue.
Grand Rapids FC now sees an extended break and an opportunity to rest and recover before its next match against local opponent Ole Soccer Club on June 29. The Boys in Blue return to NPSL play with an away match at Detroit City FC on July 1.