Duluth secured their second straight playoff run with a 1-0 win against Med City, their sixth clean sheet of the year. Soham Kathuria grabbed his first of the season off of a Joe Watt cross in the 13th minute to give his side the lead, scoring the only goal of the match. The first half would hold good chances and possession for both sides, though at the half Duluth still held a confident lead.
The second half would bring a wave of pressure from Med City as the Rochester club would often find themselves with more possession and more chances, forcing Duluth keeper Jan Hoffelner to make countless key saves throughout the full 90 minutes.
Hoffelner, who has started all but two league matches for Duluth FC this season, earned head coach Joel Person’s nomination for Man of the Match for his consistent shot-stopping against Med City. “Jan had one of his best games of the season. He made some key saves and kept another clean sheet.”
Person also named scorer Soham Kathuria as a close second for Man of the Match, having competed in a tight race for positions in the midfield.
The second half would bring drama as several clashes between players would earn both sides a series of cards for players on and off the pitch. Perhaps most notably, Med City’s Ayo Adebayo received a red card off a double yellow at the edge of the 90th minute, followed by a red for a benched player. Watt would be the only currently playing player for the BlueGreens to be carded during the situation. Despite the rising tensions, the match would not see any second goal and would end with Kathuria’s tap in the difference maker.
Kathuria would become the sixteenth BlueGreens player to score this season, Ricardo Ramos being the seventeenth when including U.S. Open Cup matches, with Dana Kowachek and Ryan Tyrer tied for most goals at four each. With potential postseason goals in mind, this is a very different scoresheet for Duluth when compared to their 2017 season in the NPSL, during which almost all goals flowed through two to three players, with Kyle Farrar grabbing the most at 13 in 14 games. One of the many players challenging for most goals is Watt, the BlueGreens’ current vice captain. By appearing against Med City he solidified his record as the only player to start every single Duluth FC match this season, including both regular season and USOC matches.
Duluth FC will be the only club from the NPSL to reach the playoffs in both years of the North Conference’s existence, with the Dakota Fusion FC and Minneapolis City SC both making it once. Often considered a second-half club, a claim grounded in some very real statistics, Duluth FC was able to make their first half their best this week. The possibilities opened by finding ways to create and benefit from the full 90 minutes of the match will surely become important as the BlueGreens look to face off against some of the best clubs in the Midwest Region during the NPSL playoffs.
Contributor: Dominic Jose Bisogno/Duluth FC
Photo Credit: Alex Ganeev