Duluth FC made history this 2018 playoff season, and capped it off with the best possible outcome in the Midwest Region, as the BlueGreens stunned AFC Ann Arbor 3-3 (4-3) on penalty kicks to hoist their first regional trophy in club history.
They did it while playing the maximum time allowed in all three games, 270 minutes, after a regional quarterfinal penalty kick win over Grand Rapids FC 2-2 (4-3), and a 2-1 extra time win over NPSL North rivals Minneapolis City SC that featured an awkward start where MPLS City was down to 10 players due to a nose ring issue.
The Midwest Regional Final started quickly as right defender Sora Wakabayashi helped to contain Ann Arbor’s All-Conference forward Yuri Farkas, forcing Ann Arbor to settle for a corner that proved to be ineffective. Duluth would counter in the 12th minute as Joe Watt flashed down the right side of the field and took a long cross that bounced out off of Joseph Stanley Okumu for a Duluth corner.
The corner would prove fruitful as Thomas Corcoran’s cross would find the head of defender Ryan Tyrer who would thud it into the net to make it 1-0 to the BlueGreens. Tyrer’s goal scoring accumulation has been a little unusual as he is the team’s starting center back, yet he leads them in goals scored with six on the year.
Ann Arbor would draw even 10 minutes later in the 22nd, when Okumu would find his Kenyan National Team teammate Chris Odhiambo on a short cross, and the forward would flick home his header to make it 1-1. The game would not stay even however, as Duluth would march right down the field and collect an own goal to reclaim the lead. Joe Watt’s cross was deflected into the back of the net by AFCAA’s captain Jack Cawley.
Duluth would make it 3-1 in the 40th on a higher unusual play. A long ball was played to Duluth’s returning goal scoring leader Kyle Farrar. The AFCAA keeper Nick Barry came out of his net to deflect the ball to the left side of the field. Brooks Rice took a low shot to the open net of Ann Arbor, and Okumu was about to parry it away from the net. Unfortunately for Ann Arbor, Farrar was ready to pounce and struck the loose ball home,wheeling away to celebrate with his bench after the wild play.
Ann Arbor would grab a goal back before half, when after a foul in the 43rd minute on the right wing, Alec Lasinski bent a free kick into the Duluth box. Cawley was quick to the spot running past the Duluth defense to send a glancing header into the back of the Duluth net to make it 3-2 Duluth.
In a relatively clean half, three cards were picked within the final minute plus extra time with AFCAA’s Cawley and Caio picking up cautions and Duluth’s Corcoran picking one up as well.
The second half turned into a highlight reel for Duluth’s All-Conference goalkeeper Jan Hoffelner. He repelled shot after shot with countless punches off of the back line, and his team held up their end of the bargain with frustrating defense to clear the ball out whenever it was loose.
Cawley almost grabbed his second of the night with a thunderbolt that beat Hoffelner from deep, but clanged off of the right post and up back into play. Play almost swung as Duluth would soon almost add their fourth but Wakabayashi’s low cross was scuffed high by Farrar.
Ann Arbor continued to make offensive substitutions in hopes of an equalizer, and it eventually paid off. Substitute Kyle Breitmeter sent in a long throw to Duluth’s box late. It found the head of Cawley, who flicked it in to the box. Another recent sub Azaad Liadi got a foot onto the ball and poked it into the net to tie the game up just before regulation ended.
Ann Arbor had multiple chances to break the tie, including a shot from Mathieu Braem from just in front of net, but Hoffelner punched the ball back out of the box.
Duluth made a gusty decision to sub of Hoffelner for Alberto Ciroi. Duluth made a similar decision against Grand Rapids, and it paid off for them with Ciroi making a key save in penalties. He also made a diving save in their U.S. Open Cup match against Dakota.
After no goals scored, the referee declared it time for penalty kicks. Ann Arbor was up first and Jack Cawley slammed his attempt left to put The Mighty Oak up 1-0. Duluth would counter, and the Ciroi would make a diving save to his left on Braem to put pressure on Ann Arbor. Jullian Villegas would get his kick to go in under AFCAA’s Barry. The teams would trade makes, and then trade misses to make it 3-2 Duluth. After a powerful effort by AFCAA’s Breitmeyer, Duluth’s Liam Moore would step up to calmly win the match for Duluth, sending Barry to the right of the net with his eyes, before fading left and slotting the ball down the middle.
Duluth will travel to Miami to take on Miami FC 2 in the NPSL National Semifinal on July 28th at 7:00 pm at Bobcat Field on the campus of St. Thomas University. Miami FC 2 is in the semifinals after defeating Little Rock Rangers 3-0 behind goals from Jamie Chavez, Dylan Mares, and former AFCAA forward Dario Suarez.
Contributor: Fletcher Sharpe/NPSL.com
Photo Credit: Alex Ganeev/Duluth FC