Duluth FC vs. Med City FC
In a make or break 90 minutes of football, Duluth FC came out on top and secured their playoff game against Grand Rapids FC. Soham Kathuria grabbed his first goal of the season, and the only of this match, in the 13th minute off of a low cross from Joe Watt. The next 80 minutes would be dominated by a Med City side that has always played good football and seems intent on keeping that title.
Duluth’s keeper, Jan Hoffelner, was put to the test on a constant basis as Med City’s varied attacking talents threatened to equalize. Hoffelner was able to get the job done and ended the match with his 6th clean sheet of the season.
Despite strong spells of attack, Duluth had very little control of the ball or flow of play throughout the match, arguably less than in their two losses this season. With that in mind, they found their win and were able to secure a playoff spot, enough to make the regular season a positive one if not a complete success.
While Med City did play very well, they did see two reds following a series of scuffles between varies players on both sides. One was for Ayo Adebayo and the other for a benched player. The cards came toward the end of the match but were enough to help Duluth end it all on a positive note.
Dakota Fusion FC vs. Minneapolis City SC
The newly crowned division champions strolled to an 8-0 drubbing of a side which, current form notwithstanding, had finished last year in the playoffs and begun the season in the Open Cup. The reasons for the Fusion slump are a subject for another day, as the Crows and their rowdy fans finished off the regular season in style and secured a bye through to the regional semifinals.
The only really surprising element was that it was only 2-0 at halftime, although that can in part be attributed to a heat index of 100+ degrees. It is also weird that both of those were from the spot (McGarrity on 27 and Oliver at around the 30th min - hydration breaks messed up the timing)
Between the two, they carved up Fusion for a hat trick each. Will Kidd ( 66th minute) and Charlie Adams (82nd) completed the tour with both City's starting and backup keepers pulling off key saves for a collective clean sheet.
VSLT FC vs. Minnesota TwinStars FC
With Duluth’s result from the day before officially ending their eligibility for the playoffs, VSLT faced the TwinStars in a match to help determine who’d earn “best of the rest”. Though VSLT’s win in their final match against Aris would eventually get them to third place, the TwinStars proved a very real threat to the Saint Paul side’s season of ups and downs.
Always a side that threatened, the TwinStars held VSLT to a draw for 90 minutes, both scoring in the 20th and 25th minutes, the Minnetonka club grabbed their winner in stoppage time and solidified their spot in the center of the division table.
For VSLT it was a reminder of what could have been and why it couldn't be. Despite leading the division for long stretches of time, VSLT couldn't find the right results when it mattered most and now find themselves without any real rewards for their efforts across the season. Another shot awaits them in 2019, a year in which the strong but frustrated side will continue to be a threat to the other established clubs in the NPSL North.
LC Aris FC vs. Sioux Falls Thunder FC
La Crosse Aris’ second to last home match of the season was almost, oh so almost, an utterly historic day for the club. Facing a Sioux Falls side that always shows talent but sometimes struggles to get real results, the possibility of the game being relatively close or interesting was there for the club that all too often find themselves on the bad side of a bad result.
To put things simply, this game was 1-1 at the 90th minute. It was not 1-1 when the 91st minute came, as Sioux Falls’ Eric Beltran grabbed the Thunder’s second goal of the game and won all three points for his side. It’s heartbreaking in some ways, as Aris equalized in the 26th minute following an early Sioux Falls goal and managed to make their plan work for so much of the match.
If not for a slight turn of fates, La Crosse Aris FC would have ended this season with two points. While to some that may seem silly, those that have paid attention to this club and its battle to climb up the hill toward a competitive position will know that it would be, and potentially next year will be, an earth shattering moment for the conference.
In the end they would finish the season with one, hard-earned point, but the fact that La Crosse managed to get narrow losses against Med City, the TwinStars, and the Dakota Fusion is a sign that there is something good brewing in Wisconsin.
LC Aris FC vs. VSLT FC
Continuing from the previous Aris match, the La Crosse side went up against tougher opposition in a VSLT side that had just watched their playoff hopes fall off the map. A hat trick for Leini Lozano and a brace for Jose Manuel Andriano would be the backbone of the Saint Paul side’s 1-7 win over Aris, a result more akin to the club’s track record.
The loss could mean many things, but in the end it doesn’t take away from the progress coming out of Wisconsin. Perhaps more than anything it’s a reminder that that progress doesn't mean Aris should expect to challenge the more competitive clubs in the conference, but rather start by joining the ranks of the lower portion of the table where other clubs like Sioux Falls and Dakota found themselves this season.
The end result doesn't quite match the roller coaster of talent and competition that the NPSL North provided us this year, but the progress of both clubs involved over 2018 is a sign of what this division can become with a little more time.