It was a solid season for the lone Canadian PDL team in the Great Lakes Division; the young players put together a 7-game winning streak before losing some momentum during a difficult road trip late in the season. Although KW lost to the Bucks at home and away leading up to their final game of the season, the young Blues were able to put the rough patch behind them and finish strong, beating the Dayton Dutch Lions 2-1 on Wednesday, July 12th. Both the KW coach and the players are hopeful that the win will give them the spring in their step to make a strong showing in the playoffs.
KW United pressed fairly aggressively from the whistle, looking for the early goal. Darren Rios had a good opportunity in the 14th minute but his shot went wide. Another opportunity came in the 17th minute when Mohamed Aborig provided a short through-ball for Wesley Cain, who was able to use his speed to get behind the Dayton defense and go one-on-one with the Lions’ keeper Matthew Hardman-Zimmerman. Unfortunately for the young attacker, he kept the ball a little too long and Hardman-Zimmerman was able to collect the ball off of Cain’s feet. The first goal would come from the same linkup, with Aborig on the receiving end; Cain fed Aborig a fantastic ball that left Aborig all alone on the left side. Aborig was able to connect with the ball midair and send it thundering into the net.
Cain would get one of his own in the 29th minute, after finding some space on the left side. He cut in and used his speed to drive past the man marking him, putting a blistering shot on net from outside the box that left the Dayton keeper no chance. Fans were delighted by the stunning acrobatic display that Cain treated them to after scoring, hyping up the crowd and adding to the energy of the stadium.
After the second goal, the Lions started to fight back, taking some control of the game. They were able to put some pressure onto the home team, eventually leading to a goal in the 37th minute by Kurt Raney, assisted by Tyrone Madhani in the 38th minute. Dayton continued to work hard for the equalizer, but were unable to break down the United defense. The half ended with KW United leading 2-1.
The second half of the match was clearly the result of a long season and tired legs. Opportunities were scarce, and neither team played with a high level of intensity. Frustration also began to rise, as play became increasingly chippy. Jiro Barriga, Liam Callahan, and Tahrik Rodriques were all shown a yellow card in the second half; and while only Cameron Philpot received a yellow for Dayton, there were certainly some very physical challenges. Justin Springer was brought down in the 68th minute from a hard collision, and aggressive challenges were common. The scoreline remained unchanged, however; and the effort put out by KW was enough for the three points. As Springer said after the game, “every single game we want to come out and compete and win”; the best way to “prepare for the playoffs is to go in on a winning streak”.
Moving forward, KW United needs to be focused; they need to build on their previous success to create momentum going into the playoffs. A deep run is not beyond their reach; but they have been plagued with injuries and difficulties in keeping their roster together. Mario Halapir, the Academy Director who also works as an assistant coach, explained after the game that the end of the season has been “a bit of a challenge because of the injuries and some of the players have already gone back home”. This has made it difficult at times “not knowing who exactly is available for that game; but at the end of the day we should be going [to the playoffs] very confident and feel that we can win”.
KW United head coach Martin Painter echoed Halapir’s comments, pointing to depth as the key challenge for the team. Despite this, he expressed belief that if KW plays “as well as we can, I think we can beat anybody”. Yet, he and his team are going into the playoffs with their eyes wide open; “it’s going to be a tough road: that opening weekend. To win two games back to back, we’re going to be hard pressed with the amount of healthy bodies we have right now”. Key to their success will be individual effort from players who have not quite broken out this season, but have demonstrated strong potential. Wesley Cain demonstrated his skill in this last game; Ken Krolicki has great athleticism, and Munir Saleh has continued to improve his striking and play-making abilities throughout the season. The skill is there; the only question is whether or not it will come together at the right place in the right time.
KW United starts their playoff run against the Thunder Bay Chill this Friday at 5:00pm in Michigan. The winner of that match will face off against the winner of the Michigan vs Des Moines match happening the same day at 7:30pm on Saturday.