Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Three goals in nine minutes hand Detroit City FC a victory over league leaders AFC Ann Arbor

After 75 minutes had passed in Sunday's match between former league leaders AFC Ann Arbor and Detroit City FC, it seemed as if Detroit's playoff hopes were tattered and that Ann Arbor would be the first club in the NPSL Great Lakes-West to clinch a postseason berth after having gone up 1-0. 

But a stunning three goals in nine minutes rally from Le Rouge left Ann Arbor fans, players and coaches stunned as to what had transpired in the 3-1 loss. Instead, AFCAA now sit second in the standings, falling out of first place in favor of Grand Rapids FC, for the first time since taking the lead on the first day of the season.

All the while, DCFC stay alive in its campaign for the postseason, now needing every single point of its final six points to have a hope of continuing its journey through July. 

"The biggest thing is that, we started over after we went to Grand Rapids, and then they [GRFC] come to town and we play arguable our best game of the year," Detroit City FC coach Ben Pirmann said. "To say that today is a turning point, I don't know. A month ago, we go down 1-0 then the season is probably over. Whereas, those guys dug in deep. 

"When I try to preach to these guys to stay patient, your time will come, and to dig deep and stay with it and this is what happens. A month ago, I don't think it happens. 

"Tonight, the guys worked their tails off, and you have to give them credit. This was a 20-man effort, and it took at 20 guys to do it."

On the other side of the pitch, AFC Ann Arbor coach Eric Rudland was dumbfounded, and borderline speechless about what had transpired at Hollway Field. It was a reverse flashback from a week ago, when the Mighty Oak had made an improbable comeback against Lansing United. 

"We felt very good coming into this match, and I feel like the first 60 minutes; we played very well. We got the goal, and I feel like we got a little bit complacent," Rudland said. "It's a very humbling experience to go up 1-0 and then lose 3-1. 

"It wasn't personnel or tactics, I think it comes down to psychology. The mentality of our group has to be stronger. We have to be more composed when we go up to finish the game."

Willie Bayemi opened the scoring for AFC Ann Arbor in the 56th minute. Bayemi took advantage of a chemistry lacked defense backline and goalkeeper, Cody Lang, combination; a defensive end that had only played together in two previous matches. 

The game could have broken open for AFC Ann Arbor in the 67th minute, when former DCFC defender Kevin Taylor put the ball on net with his head from a corner, but Lang made an acrobatic save to keep the scoreline at 1-0. 

Just as the league leaders looked to have the match all but ended with 15 minutes left, but Cyrus Saydee had other thoughts, chipping the ball over AFCAA goalkeeper Fabi Veit, scoring seemingly out of nowhere. 

Detroit didn't necessarily hold the momentum advantage after Saydee scored his goal though, and Ann Arbor continues to push for the win. But by opening up on the attack, it allowed Detroit to win a corner on the counter-attack. 

The corner initially missed Seb Harris' head, but it laid perfectly for Tyler Moorman to dink the ball past Veit, giving  Le Rouge the lead with ten minutes left. 

Bad turned to worse for AFC Ann Arbor, resulting in Saydee scoring his second of the night off of a freak sequence of events that was truly unlucky for Ann Arbor. 

The ball had made its way back to Veit, but as he attempted to launch the ball into the midfield, a pressing Saydee got into the path of the ball, blasting it back past Veit and into the net, giving DCFC a 3-1 lead. 

"A lot of it is psychological. It's a moment that, Fabi knows right from wrong in that situation so, with players like him that are extremely experienced, it's more about putting your arm around them and saying 'hey, next time you'll make that play for us no issues'," Rudland said. "He knows what is what, and when he makes a mistake, he's the first one to say it."

Both clubs truly do hold their own destiny in its hands heading into the final two weeks of the season. Detroit must win against a surging, but beatable Lansing United team, and a down-in-form Michigan Stars FC.  Le Rouge's road to the postseason is perfectly plausible.  

"Because of injuries, we're in trouble with some bodies; but Lansing doesn't care. They press, it's a big field and they're fit. They're going to come out flying, they know that we haven't won on that field. So it's going to be an open game and not a lot of teams give us an open game," said Pirmann. "Our opponents try to counter, so we have to make sure that we're aggressive and tough. Play our game."

AFC Ann Arbor has the more difficult task between the two. The club finishes its season on the road against new league leaders, Grand Rapids FC and Kalamazoo FC. The match against GRFC could all but decide who wins the league. 

Rudland gave no update on changing strategy when it came to facing Grand Rapids. But don't be surprised if the former league leaders bounce back positively and finish the season in the number one spot.

The playoff race between AFC Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids FC and Detroit City FC is on and only two clubs can make the cut. On July 15, all of the questions will be answered.

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