Saturday, May 21, 2016

AFC Ann Arbor force draw in Detroit City FC's inaugural Keyworth match

It was an event that had been in the making for months. 

Blood, sweat, tears, passion, dedication and love went into the creation and renovation of the stadium, where an electric atmosphere accompanied a 1-1 draw between Detroit City FC and AFC Ann Arbor that was experienced by 7,410 individuals at Keyworth Stadium on Friday night. 

Four years ago, the team was playing in front of a few thousands of fans in its inaugural season, and on Friday the club broke the NPSL regular season attendance record, previously held by Chattanooga FC, with a difference of 2,300 people.

Despite taking the lead courtesy of a brilliant chip from Alec Lasinski, Detroit City FC squandered the lead directly after halftime when a red card for a foul inside the 18-yard box to Brett Nason allowed AFC Ann Arbor's Dario Suarez to score the equalizer from the penalty spot. 

Detroit City FC captain Dave Edwardson

"The biggest thing goes to our fans, because they pushed us through," DCFC coach Ben Pirmann said. "It wasn't just the crazy fans in the supporters sections, but also the more subdued fans on the family friendly side that were going crazy as well. 

"Yeah, 7,400 is a lot but it's also the passion, because down here it felt more like 10,000 or 12,000, and at this point I think our guys are completely dead but they pushed on because of our fans."

Fans of DCFC expected to see a rotated squad, with a majority of Friday's starters having played five games in 10 days, but were treated with a much unchanged line up from Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup match against Louisville City FC. 

On top of that, captain Dave Edwardson and vice captain Seb Harris have played every minute that Detroit City FC have played this season. 

"Dave is an incredible leader and Seb has incredible experience and those two guys are passionate; not only about the game but they're genuinely passionate about this club," said Pirmann. "It shows because they work their absolute tails off and I don't know what type of words I have to describe those two guys. 

"Think about the minutes those guys have played in the past two weeks, those guys are huge for us."

Detroit City FC vice-captain Seb Harris
Of course, Le Rouge owners, coaches, players and staff wanted the home team to take a victory away from the historic and record breaking night at Keyworth Stadium, but AFC Ann Arbor had other plans coming into the occasion. 

With a social media campaign that lambasted the hashtag '#BeatCity' being used, it was clear that The Mighty Oak was looking to spoil the homecoming for DCFC, and continue its run at the top of the table. 

To do so, AFCAA had to take advantage of the tired legs and minds of the DCFC contingent, but despite scoring the last goal in the match and playing up a man for virtually the entire second half, the Washtenaw County side had to be content with leaving Keyworth with one point. 

"It's always going to be a tough place to play here, we knew that they were going to be up to it with all of the variables in play," AFCAA coach Eric Rudland said. "So we wanted to manage those variable but then see that in the last 30 or 40 minutes of the match, our fresh legs could have an advantage. 

"Of course with them [DCFC] going down a guy, it's unjust to say that we did have a fitness advantage but we did have a few breaks and created some goal scoring chances."

Detroit City FC goalscorer Alec Lasinski
One of those scoring chances came in the 23rd minute, with leading goal scorer and man-in-form Yuri Farkas taking advantage of space and firing a shot on goal, which was easily handled by goalkeeper Nate Steinwascher. 

Surprisingly, AFC Ann Arbor were capable to hold a decent amount of possession and did dictate a majority of play in the midfield. 

The story of the first half was the battle of the midfield. Both sides fought hard on both the flanks and in the middle of the park, making it difficult to take advantage of instances where balls found the way into respective attacking thirds. 

But finally it was Detroit City FC who broke the deadlock with a ball over the top that found the chest of Lasinski, who graciously chipped his own volley over Ann Arbor goalkeeper Fabian Veit to score the first ever DCFC goal at Keyworth. 

The goal was scored directly before the half. 

AFC Ann Arbor goalscorer Dario Suarez
"We weren't sharp in possession or attack in the first25 or 30 minutes and then we were really good," said Pirmann. "Chances came, even though the decisions didn't go our way but we have to keep fighting and keep the ball out of the back of the net while also scoring goals as well."

The second half couldn't have started any worse for City, with Nason committing a foul in the penalty area as well as being shown a red card only two minutes after halftime. 

Suarez was keen to take the penalty kick, and leveled the score with no trouble from Steinwascher. 

The match then became a battle, and not just in the midfield, but all over the pitch. The game may have ended level, but its clear that this game was just a small battle in what will be a lengthy and tension filled war between the Detroit and Ann Arbor sides. 

Knox Cameron returns to Detroit
Between the fouls, banter, goals, yellow cards, red cards, physicality and goals; it was a momentous occasion of which the occasion and atmosphere, as well as the accomplishments of a fourth-tier club were being celebrated equal to, if not more than the product on the pitch. 

Even former striker for Detroit City FC and current co-owner of AFC Ann Arbor, Knox Cameron, had nothing but praise for the accomplishments of the club. 

"This is absolutely fantastic," Cameron said as a 'traitor' chant broke out. "I'm taking a lot of banter right now, but these fans are awesome, the atmosphere is amazing. It's growing the game of soccer in this area, and there's nothing more important than that."

The evening ended with AFC Ann Arbor, continuing its run at the top of the table, moving two points ahead of Detroit City FC, who is two points below The Mighty Oak.

"We have guys who are used to playing in front of great crowds and atmosphere like this, so we didn't even talk about the environment, footballers play football, that's what we did," said Rudland. "Our primary focus was that, when the whistle blows, we were going to play. 

Click for full match gallery
"I'm really proud of our men tonight, we've been very fortunate and we're just looking to continue trending upwards."

AFC Ann Arbor have ten days off until its next NPSL match, but Detroit City FC once again has a quick turnaround, and will travel to Kalamazoo to play Kalamazoo FC. Sunday's match will finish out the very congested schedule that the team has fought through. 

"We'll be four games and the last eight games are very valuable for us, and we have to go in to fight for three points every single time that we take the field," said Pirmann. "They were a man down for 45 minutes and they [AFC Ann Arbor] celebrated a draw, we're going to get everyones best game and we have to get ready for that.

"We can re-group but we have to take it game-by-game, but we don't settle for draws."

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