by Ian Katan
MINNEAPOLIS — Though known as the “Beautiful Game”, not every match lives up to the moniker. Minneapolis City SC’s 3-2 loss to Med City FC was, unfortunately, one of those matches. The Crows’ run in the inaugural competition for the Minnesota Super Cup ended in its semifinals with the defeat.
Minneapolis started the game strong, and found early success when Dennis Mensah opened scoring in the 5th minute. The forward brought down a clearance and smashed a volley past a flying goalkeeper, notching his second goal in the competition.
“Dennis Mensah… he’s been outstanding,” Minneapolis head coach Carl Craig recognized.
Playing a majority of the match with a lead to maintain, the Crows leaned on their defense and counterattacks. Offering an aesthetic of play not everyone is excited to watch, Minneapolis found trouble creating additional scoring opportunities. The team was also challenged to find momentum to extend their lead, as the choppy game was disrupted by at least a dozen yellow-cards, and a number of calls that drew protests from the Minneapolis bench.
“I thought we were quite comfortable,” Craig said, as the Crows’ back-line played their part, and the scoreline remained in Minneapolis’ favor through halftime. “We looked alright, we had the space, we had the time to move the ball.”
“I think when we went one-up, that was kind of where we were comfortable at, where we thought it was gonna go,” echoed outside back Carson Pina. “And then, kind of, just not doing our job on set pieces and letting them back into the game.”
“We [started] very disciplined, and like the way we move and how we keep each other accountable for all of our actions. It wasn’t just the defenders, it was the whole team defending together that allowed us to defend for 60-plus minutes.”
On three occasions, goalkeeper Evan Siefken was forced to make crucial interventions on shots that would have likely found the net. But after an hour of successfully fending-off attacks from the hosts, a breakthrough came in the 67th minute. Lucas Hart slid a shot just beyond Siefken’s reach.
Two-minutes later, Med City’s high-press forced a turnover in Crows’ 18-yard box. The ball falling to Ricardo Schroeder, the forward gave the Mayhem their first lead.
“Defensive breakdown,” Craig reflected. “Gifted them it.”
“I think once we get that early goal, it’s kind of just like Racine, like we just panic and think we can hold up for the win,” midfielder Scott Heinen said, referencing the Crows 3-1 defeat to RKC Third Coast in which Shea Bechtel headed home in the 4th minute, but three unanswered-goals meant the Crows went home empty-handed. “You can’t do that the whole game and it showed.”
“For the most part, we were doing a pretty good job of staying tight on our man and make sure they didn’t, like, get out of reach,” Pina said. “Just ended up where people lost their man and they scored off of it.”
The Crows leveled in the 82nd minute from the head of Wes Lorrens, and off the back of a sustained period of pressure, looked like they might find another chance to advance to the Super Cup final. Unfortunately, the last chance came at the other end of the field in the 85th minute, when Siefken clawed a deflected header off the line, but the rebound was put past him.
Whether it was Andrew Wilkinson’s header or Jake Strachan’s follow-up that was ultimately credited with crossing the line, the Mayhem, up 3-2, took the match’s final lead.
“I’m disappointed, of course.” head coach Carl Craig said after the game. “In a tournament, unless you win it, you lose.”
The defeat stung, Pina agreed, but there was still success in getting to the semis after Minneapolis lost its opening Super Cup game back in May.
“I think this year is more of a building year for us,” said Pina. “We’re trying to build a foundation for next year. I think obviously any team wants to do better. But you have to be realistic with a lot of guys coming in and out of the starting XI [tonight] and the squad in general.”
A theme throughout the season — wether due to injury, or players arriving from and going back to school — was the challenge of fielding a consistent lineup. “We were a little bit unbalanced, because we had a bunch of lads in who hadn’t played [together],” Craig said. “But the fact that our lads keep turning up, I think, is credit to them. Some teams, when they’re losing, hope is going to disappear. These fellas are quality people. Couldn’t ask for more.”
An adaptation to the challenge posed by the late-season cup tie was that a number of current Futures-players featured throughout the game. And that opportunity to gain experience against a tough opponent in a knockout-fixture is valuable, no matter the outcome.
“I think they bought really good energy, all of them. I think that there’s always a spot for somebody who’s willing to try and try and take it,” Pina said about the Futures players. “It’s always fighting for your spot.”
“[We’ve got to] create an environment [that] players want to come into. I think to a degree we’ve done that, but for me, we need to do even better,” Craig said, turning his attention to next season. “We still get a good group of guys turning up to training and people want to come train so I’m taking that as a positive.”
“Even if the progress is just greater insight for me, as to where we are as a football club, then it’s progress. I have an idea of what we need to both evolve on the pitch and off the pitch, but I think we need to do a lot of work off the pitch in order to create a better environment for these lads. And hopefully that leads to better results on a pitch”
Better results on the pitch, they agreed, are a reward worthy of the fanbase that continues to show their support for the club.
“I’d say thank you for coming out everyday and supporting us. There’s really nothing, I think, more we can ask for, than a loyal fan base that’s there,” Pina said. “I know one fan in particular who happens to play the drums at home. I’ve seen him at every-single game and you know, that’s the spirit that we really want to back up with wins.”
“Let’s be competitive here. Let’s create the right environment, let’s put on a product that supporters want to watch and enjoy watching,” Craig said. “Let’s give them something to cheer. That’s where I would like to be next year.”