STILLWATER, Minn. — The preface to Wednesday’s match was long. Minneapolis City SC had its gameday operations trailer stolen out of Edor Nelson’s Field’s parking lot; soccer fans from the Twin Cities, United States, and beyond all rallied to help make the club whole via an online fundraiser; the club began to try and put on a game, looking to borrow bare essentials such as folding tables; Canadian wild fires lowered air quality such that the evening’s game was moved indoors to the St. Croix Valley Rec Center; and City resolved to refund all single-game tickets while setting up an impromptu web-stream.
To top everything off, the division-leading Thunder Bay Chill left town with all three points following a 3-1 victory.
The visitors got their first goal when a cross hit Minneapolis’ near post, and the deflection fell to Hugo Tavares inside the 18-yard box. The midfielder did not waste the gift, slotting a shot into goal in the 21th minute.
The Crows responded. Forward Hakeem Morgan hit the crossbar with an effort of his own eight minutes later. Futures program call up Evan Siefken, making his first-team debut in goal, stopped Chill forward Brandon Bermingham one-on-one in the 30th.
Then, a turnover at midfield launched a Thunder Bay counter. Making use of an impressive combination of pace and placement, Bermingham tallied his first of the evening, threading a shot between Siefken and the far post.
“We’re down 2-0 at halftime,” said City head coach Carl Craig, “we cannot just sit. But at the same time, we’ve got 45 minutes. We can still be patient and move the football.”
Whatever the mixture of Thunder Bay’s desire to sit back in protection of a two-goal lead — perhaps heightened by the knowledge the Chill play another game against Rochester FC ahead of the weekend — and the necessity for City to adventure forward, the combination saw the Crows seize the initiative in the second half.
There was, in spite of the score line, evidence of improvement. Where City had previously struggled to find space inside when attacking, its players began probing for goals from those positions.
Coming off the bench at the break, after dealing with an injury in training this week, it was Eric Contreras that would pull the game back to within a goal.
“I saw the open space. They were just sticking their legs out on the shot, so it took it,” the exceedingly-verbose midfielder reflected, in full.
Contreras, shifting his weight to change angles on his marker, sent a 56th-minute shot from the edge of the penalty area, through a sea of legs, and into the lower corner, putting City on the board.
“We do it all the time; we score one to get back in the game and then, within minutes, it’s in the back of [our] net, again. That’s inexperience,” said Craig, of the goal that would sink his side’s evening. “The emotional impact on the blokes on the field when we score, because they’re euphoric, they forget that we’re still playing football… we forget that’s there’s plenty of time. I was shouting across the park, ‘Plenty of time to get another one!’”
Chasing a long clearance in the 62nd minute, Bermingham’s diligence was rewarded when a lack of communication between Siefken and centerback Wes Lorrens resulted in neither making a play on the ball. The Thunder Bay forward asked no questions, and lofted a shot over Siefken with the latter off his line, restoring the Chill’s two-goal lead.
“It’s frustrating,” said Contreras, “it’s an easy ball to clear out. To not do that… it’s tough.”
City would battle on. Among those drawing praise, postgame, from Craig, was midfielder Scotty Heinen, who made his first start of the season after joining up with the Crows upon returning from Germany.
“Everything gets sucked out of you and you want to fall,” said Heinen, “but you’ve gotta keep going. You have no option. If you want to stick with that [lousy] feeling, you’re gonna get a [lousy] feeling after the game. You’ve got 90 minutes to play, so if you don’t give everything in those 90 minutes, then you deserve your defeat.”
“Smack in the face, really,” added Craig, “because we were on the up. And I think the fight, as we came out of the dressing room, second half, was tremendous. We tweaked a little, few things; had a few words in here. And then, we get the goal back, and say, ‘Well, here we go.’”
Sadly, no more goals were to be found in the final half hour. Only a few cautions and a sending off. The latter occurred in the game’s final moments, when City forward Steevie Lamarre threw out a forearm that glanced off an opposing player’s shoulder and resulted in hands-to-face.
“There’s a foundation around it,” said Craig, of his team’s performance in defeat. “In the past we haven’t always looked like a football team. So, we could move it, could bounce it. Yeah, we still made a lot of errors. We made poor decisions. But there’s some momentum, here, that we can work on.
“Not happy when you get beat, but the biggest challenge we have, here, is you don’t know who’s going to be here the next day. So, Scotty comes in; great. Evan comes in; great. Eric Contreras? I mean, he’s as good as we’ve got. But the kid has to go to work and earn a living, so away games, he just cannot be there. Today it feels like we’ve moved significantly forward, but then I don’t know who’s going to be there, Saturday.
“[Thunder Bay] is a good team, by the way, and this is as good as we’ve played as a team. We’re going to up the ante a bit, but I’ve got to be happy at some point, at some time. Otherwise I’m boiling me head in a bucket of oil. So, I’m relatively happy.“
For Contreras and Heinen, there was a moral victory to be found in the Crows’ effort, even if all involved would have traded it for a lesser performance and three points.
“They’re the best team in the division and we really fought at them,” Heinen said. “We’ve got to carry that idea that we came and played, and we balled with those guys. The defeat sucks, for sure. You can’t knock that. You just gotta keep going, feel the performance, get a little bit of a boost from that, and go on to the next game.”
- Carl Craig on Siefken’s debut: “If you’re going to move on in football, when you get the shirt, you’ve just gotta be the man. What I’m seeing is people think, ‘I’ve got to ween me way in.’ No. When I pick you, and I put you on the park, you’ve got to be the beast. You’ve gotta be the real thing. Not, ‘I’ve got to meld myself into the group.’ He was in line to start the previous game and then it got canceled. This is the thing, you’ve got to stick your neck out. All-in-all, I thought he had a good game. Didn’t have a great deal to do, in terms of saves, but what he did, he was good. Calming as well. We didn’t have as much drama, which is great, because they’re not the BBC.”
- Heinen on his first start: “It’s a disappointing result. But I’m glad I could be a part of a performance that seems like it was a step up from the rest of this season, and to be part of the 15 that really get in and get moving. Simple mistakes. We have one dicey moment and one deflection that goes off the post that’s a tap in. We cut those out, then you look at what happened, and it’s 1-1 and you go from there.“