Monday, May 29, 2017

Second half comeback lifts AFC Ann Arbor over Grand Rapids FC in Memorial Day Classic

AFC Ann Arbor not only recovered from a halftime deficit on Monday to defeat Grand Rapids FC 2-1 in the clubs third annual Memorial Day Classic, but also recovered from its loss to Lansing United last weekend.

With the win, The Mighty Oak continues to look down on the pack, leading the summit in the 2017 NPSL Great Lakes Conference, having taken the top spot on the opening day of the season.

"We went down early but we responded well," AFCAA head coach Eric Rudland said. "We knew we needed some tactical flexibility in this one. They changed it up and scored the goal, we made an adjustment at half time.

"But really we talked about our mentality as a group with perseverance and resolve at home, a goal down when we haven't dealt with that a lot this season."

The Mighty Oak were without their star forward, Dario Suarez, due to a red card suspension issued against Lansing United, while GRFC were without the recently released Hunter Barone, and three other players.

But with that being said, Monday's match between the former Great Lakes Premier League clubs did not lack entertainment value, and the first half flew by with both teams battling it out with end-to-end action.

AFCAA almost opened the scoring in the second minute with a rebounded shot by David Cross that was cleared off the line at the last second.

Only six minutes later, Kyle Breitmeyer broke through the Grand Rapids defenders on the wing, but his shot missed the mark.

Another opportunity fell for Ann Arbor in the ninth minute, with the returning Hector Morales issuing a powerful header that found GRFC goalkeeper, Noah Fazekas', hands for his first save of the afternoon.

 Grand Rapids earned their first chance on goal in the 13th minute with a volley from Jalen Rodriguez, but the chance went wide of the post.

After the chance, Grand Rapids FC amped up their offensive steam, finally enjoying a spell of possession and putting pressure on the midfield and defensive lines.

The change in momentum fell in favor for Grand Rapids in the 30th minute, seeing Anthony Bowie put the ball past AFCAA goalkeeper T.J. Tomasso to take a first half lead.

Three minutes later, it seemed like The Mighty Oak had evened up the scoreline after Jake Rosen's effort from outside of the box rang off the post and Yuri Farkas headed the rebound into goal, but the assistant referee's flag was up, cancelling the goal.

Alex Mendez came close to doubling the lead for Grand Rapids right before the halftime whistle, getting his 30-yard shot past Tomasso, but stopped only by the cross bar. GRFC held the lead, 1-0 through halftime.

"We started putting the pieces together and made a couple of adjustments to the team," Rudland said. "It was about learning how to play against teams that want to sit in after they go up on us, and that's what Grand Rapids did today.

"Obviously, we have pace and we can get in behind the defense and that tactic is for teams that want to play a little bit deeper."

The second half wasn't as back-and-forth as the first half, and the pace of the match definitely slowed down, but action was not scarce between these two rivals.

Fazekas was forced into a fantastic save in the 48th minute off of a shot from Breitmeyer, it looked like he may be in trouble with the rebound but the ball, once again, smacked off the post.

You could feel the momentum switch to Ann Arbor as soon as the second half whistle blew, and a 53rd minute chance from Hector Morales was the perfect precursor for the goal Morales scored in the 57th minute to tie the match at one-a-piece.

The game winning goal came in the 65th minute off the foot of Jesse Muskwe, who put the ball past Fazekas with a low but quick shot.

The Boys in Blue kept pushing through the end of the game, but it wasn't enough and despite holding a first half lead, the hosts take the spoils in the Memorial Day Classic, 2-1.

"We made some good adjustments to play against a deep back line and find ways to get the goal," Rudland said. "It was a very good response."

AFC Ann Arbor looks to keep its run at the top of the table rolling with a visit to Michigan Stars FC on June 2, and Grand Rapids FC has the challenge of traveling to Keyworth Stadium to take on a Detroit City FC club aiming to find its footing, also on June 2.

You can find the full photo gallery from Saturday's match by clicking this sentence.

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