GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — Fourth place on goal differential, and what a relief? Certainly so for Minneapolis City SC upon defeating Duluth FC 2-1 at home on Saturday. Short-season summer leagues are cruel on slow-starting teams. Having earned just 4 points from its previous-five NPSL contests, frustration within the club — and among City fans and former players — was growing.
The pregame pressure was notable with fellow North Conference “big three” rival Duluth FC coming to the Twin Cities. The BlueGreens began the weekend atop the conference table with a 5-0-0 record, yet to concede a single goal. Worse, for City, was that Duluth had already taken the three points on offer when the two met at Public Schools Stadium on May 14. Another defeat would mark the first time the Crows had ever dropped both meetings in a regular-season series to the BlueGreens. It would also deal a significant blow to the Crows’ playoff hopes, with City already on the outside looking in.
The all-time series lead was also at stake, with the two teams holding four wins apiece and sharing a pair of draws.
Intensity on the field cut a contrast with its surreal surroundings. So much cottonwood pollen was set aloft by the summer breeze that McKnight Field resembled a snow globe. Early, in the 12th minute, amid the drifting seeds, slipped Zach Susee. Played ahead by a pass from Loïc Mesanvi, the former Minneapolis City Futures forwards combined to produce the game’s first goal.
“Getting to play with [Mesanvi] in Futures last year was an absolute blast. We’ve carried that chemistry over,” said Susee. “I set him up for the goal against Des Moines, and today was the reverse. I feel that we have that connection that a lot of other guys here just don’t have yet, because we’ve brought in a lot of new guys this year. And I think it’s really been huge for the team when we’ve been able to get on the field, together.”
A hard-fought first half unfolded under early-summer sun, in front of aluminum bleachers dappled with fans. In the press box above, Minneapolis City chairman Dan Hoedeman celebrated Susee’s strike and watched play, emotionally invested in a rivalry flavored with bitter notes.
“Don’t print this,” said Hoedeman, prefacing joint praise for both sides, “But this is the highest level of play I’ve seen in the NPSL North.”
Kostyantyn Domaratskyy drew the game’s first yellow in the 17th minute. The Ukranian midfielder, having his pocket picked by midfield dynamo Jameson Charles, pulled the Crows No. 6 to the ground before Charles could race past. Mesanvi earned the second in the 29th, colliding with Brendan Dally when contesting for a ball that only the BlueGreens keeper reached.
Blake Perry, Duluth’s leading scorer, curled an acute-angle shot just past Minneapolis’ far post in the 35th minute. Back-to-back saves saw Minneapolis keeper Kaelen Matascastillo deny Perry and Aaron Pike in the 40th minute.
The scoreline held to the half. Two minutes after the restart, an intended City cross bounced off the BlueGreens crossbar.
A Santiago Erazo yellow card provided the Crows with a free kick from 20-some yards out in the 50th minute. Midfielder Luca Contestabile guided his shot outside the wall, past Dally and into the lower corner of the goal, doubling Minneapolis’ lead.
The moment was cathartic. Many of the points dropped by the Crows this season were lost to results that followed the flow of play. But frustratingly, others were not. The latter produced a record not reflective of the talent found on Minneapolis’ roster. Up two goals against a yet-undefeated, first-place opponent, it finally felt City was playing up to its potential.
Mesanvi nearly added a third goal when he burst past the BlueGreens’ back line in the 69th minute. Dally, coming off his line, made himself big, and got hands to the ball the Crows’ wunderkind sought to scoop over him.
Perhaps if Perry’s effort in the 35th had curled in; perhaps if City’s errant cross had floated in; perhaps if Mesanvi opted to dribble Dally; perhaps if the BlueGreens placed a shot or two where Matacastillo was not, though those spaces were few; the game would have unfolded differently. But up two goals, the Crows weathered the final 20 minutes.
In added time, Matacastillo got a hand to a Duluth cross sent into the six-yard box. Second-half substitute Paul Bobai bundled-home the loose ball to bring the game back within a goal. It produced intrusive thoughts among Crows fans in the game’s final moments, but ultimately, no bridge to a result for Duluth.
New names augmented old in the rivalry and a pair of Crows making their first appearances against Duluth were key to the City’s victory.
“I was thinking about it in my preparation. I understood what the rivalry was, but until today, I didn’t understand what it meant to the fans,” Matacastillo confided. “I was thinking about it before the game, just making sure I didn’t let it get to my head.”
“Winning is awesome, especially against those guys,” Susee said. “They’re top of the table. You know, they probably came in thinking they were going to have an easy one, today. Going out and beating them like that, it feels really good.”
NPSL head coach Marco Campoverde offered that the day’s outcome was not down to any significant systemic or tactical changes, but a shift in mentality from the last time the two sides met. This time around, the Crows were prepared for a Duluth side that has put opposing teams to the sword in transition.
“It was players buying into what the gameplan was,” said Campoverde. “The final piece is to go out and play, and execute. We had tremendous support from the community, which spurred us on to a great result.
“You can’t really put it into words. I understand the history, I respect the history, and I look forward to many more battles like this.”