Having played two intense games in the regular season, both of which key in Minneapolis’ conference winning run, Duluth FC and Minneapolis City SC stepped on to the pitch in Ann Arbor Michigan on Friday to decide who would move on to the Midwest Region Playoff Final and represent the North in the furthest match either club would have ever reached in the playoff process.
The first half would bring plenty of action, but it is important to note that Minneapolis played roughly 17 minutes a man down. It currently appears this was due to a nose ring being worn by the sidelined player. Minneapolis would eventually sub him off following Duluth’s first goal in the 17th minute, restoring their side to eleven men. That goal came from Kyle Farrar, who so often is the source of BlueGreens goals. Farrar received a through ball from Tom Corcoran and managed to keep himself onside as he rushed into the box and slotted the ball in to put his side up 1-0. Matt Elder, City’s keeper, managed to get a touch on the ball, but was unable to redirect it away from the net.
Restored to full strength, City would respond quickly, creating several chances before finally finding their equalizer in the 36th minute through Branden McGarrity. McGarrity beat Sora Wakabayashi at the wing and managed to cut into space before shooting the ball into the near post. With both sides having chances, possession, and goals, it became clear this game would be tough for both sides.
The half ended 1-1, with both clubs regrouping in an effort to find their way past the other’s plan. Both seemed to have found something to work with as the second half would bring near-fatal chances for Duluth and Minneapolis. Both keepers, Jan Hoffelner and Matt Elder, would come up big as they stopped otherwise sure goals from going in. Brooks Rice had his chip agonizedly denied despite being Elder as a Minneapolis defender managed to kick it out off the line. Despite these close chances, neither side could find their winner in the second half and were forced into added extra time.
With extra time came end game substitutions for both sides. This would include an eventually key subbing in of Duluth’s Ricardo Ramos for Brooks Rice. Duluth’s secondary keeper, Alberto Ciroi, did begin to warm up in preparation for a replay of his PK shootout heroics during the Grand Rapids game, but would not come on once it became clear the match wouldn't be going to shootouts. Ramos would prove key because, after stints of possession on both ends, Duluth would win a PK for him to take.
Now it’s here that some controversy develops as both sides, as one would expect, felt very strongly and opposite of one another as to if that penalty was justified. The call was off of a handball by Myles Norville in the box, who made contact with a low cross to Kyle Farrar. While the ball certainly deflects off of him and seems to hit his arm, there was a strong debate about the positioning of his arm and whether he had intention when he made the contact. As many watchers of the game will know, handballs can become a complex matter, this one included. Minneapolis City would go on to refer to the call as “surprising” after the full-time whistle came and awarded Duluth victory.
Here is a video, taken from Ann Arbor’s youtube stream/video which is also still publicly available, which shows the handball call in question. Take a look for yourself and see what you think:
It should also be mentioned that a scuffle developed before the PK was taken between Kyle Farrar and Matt Elder, who refused to give Duluth the ball. Neither player received a card but both were talked to by the referee for their behavior. With Ramos’ goal, his first outside of a shootout since his two USOC goals against the Dakota Fusion, Duluth would gain the high ground again. Minneapolis would kick into overdrive with only five minutes to level the score, putting endless pressure on a Duluth side who did their best to get the ball and make it into the opposition’s corners to burn time. Duluth would sub out into a more defensive lineup for those final minutes, eventually surviving the added three minutes and sealing their run to the Midwest final.
Duluth’s win would mark the end of a historic run by Minneapolis City, who went undefeated through their entire 14 match season in 2018, winning ten and drawing four. Said run stands out perhaps the most because of the North’s competitive nature, in which many clubs have good quality and a chance to win. While Duluth will be happy to move on and get a shot at winning silverware, Minneapolis will surely be one of the most important sides to watch in 2019 as they look to defend their first conference title.
With all that being said, the result came with controversy and debate and perhaps will be a talking point for some time. Duluth will now face Ann Arbor, who beat Cleveland SC 1-0 the same night, in the Midwest Region Final. It will be Duluth’s first appearance in the final and their first time playing AFC Ann Arbor, who won their conference by six points, coincidentally the same margin that Minneapolis won the North with. That match will be streamed on AFC Ann Arbor’s youtube page, kicking off at 7:30 ET.