In their second shot at the NPSL Midwest Region playoffs, Duluth FC came face-to-face with Grand Rapids FC of Michigan for the first time in their history. It would be Duluth’s second playoff meeting with a Michigan club, having lost 5-2 in the semi-finals to Detroit City FC the year before. With a first half of strong chances and close calls for both sides, the two clubs found themselves tied 0-0 at the half with little more than a yellow card per side to show for their efforts.
The second half would be a different story, with both clubs having strong stints of possession and grabbing goals along the way. Duluth’s would come first as Ryan Tyrer and Brooks Rice found the back of the net from the 46th to the 52nd minute. Tyrer’s fifth of season, making him the club’s current lead goal scorer, came from a Tom Corcoran corner kick. His header beat the keeper and started the half right for the BlueGreens. Rice would add to his side’s lead after breaking through several defenders via his own touch, covering roughly half the pitch, and finally slotting in his fourth of the year.
Grand Rapids would show how they’d earned second place in a tough conference by scoring two goals in the last ten minutes via Matthew Whelan and Kenny Howell to equalize and force Duluth into extra time. Duluth’s Selim Tunagur would make his first appearance for the first team as a substitute in the 77th minute. Both sides would have an eventful but resultless extra time and would then be forced into penalties. Duluth would make two notable substitutions during extra time, one being the subbing of keeper Jan Hoffelner for Alberto Ciroi. Hoffelner had had a standout match with several key saves, but Ciroi had a strong record against penalties and was deemed a needed tool for the upcoming shootout. The BlueGreens also brought on Ricardo Ramos. The Portuguese talent had starred in the club’s first U.S. Open Cup match in which he scored twice, but was then injured for the entirety of the regular season.
With tensions high, both squads proceeded to take their penalties. Ciroi came up big, saving Grand Rapids’ fourth and fifth penalties. Ciroi had made two league experiences for the BlueGreens previously, both wins against La Crosse Aris, and played their U.S. Open Cup match against the Dakota Fusion in its entirety. With Rice having hit the bar, Kyle Farrar was tasked with taking the match-winner. The fan favorite took his shot with ease and won his side the chance to take on North rivals Minneapolis City in the Midwest Region Playoff semifinals. In the end Caleb Postlewait, Kenroy Howell, and Noah Fazekas would score penalties for Grand Rapids and Santiago Castro, Ricardo Ramos, Aidan Hill, and Farrar would score their penalties for Duluth FC. Hill and Castro’s penalties would be their first goals for the BlueGreens in an official match.
Contributor: Dominic Jose Bisogno/Duluth FC
Photo Credit: Alex Ganeev/Duluth FC