Tensions were high, as were expectations in this clash of the titans in the Great Lakes division of the USLPDL. The two leading teams of the division; KW United and the Michigan Bucks, had not met on the pitch since the beginning of the season in Michigan, when the Bucks defeated KW United 2-0. A lot has changed since that early season game; KW has added to their roster significantly and has found their chemistry, and the Bucks have continued to build a solid winning team.
The action and speed of the game was certainly not disappointing to the fans, despite the low scoreline. Both teams were in it to win, and took a fierce intensity to the game from the starting whistle. KW took control early in the first half, and was able to develop quite a number of scoring chances and high pressure. In the 7th minute, Liam Callahan earned a free kick just outside the box that provided a good opportunity for a set-piece. A minute later, KW United earned a corner that Ken Krolicki sent over the box and out; 3 minutes later, yet another corner resulted in a quick shot from the left side that the Bucks keeper was able to collect.
The Bucks had a good chance in the 13th minute that Charles Novoth was able to end through a quick slide tackle inside the box; all the defenders for KW were solid during the game, getting involved in the presses while closing the Bucks’ attack rapidly when the ball went the other way. Yet despite a lot of hard work, United was unable to break down the equally effective Bucks defense. Largely as a result of the intensity of the game, there was some chippy play by both teams, although only one yellow card was given during the game. Justin Springer was taken down in the 36th minute and looked to be in considerable pain, although he was able to walk it off after a little time.
The first half ended scoreless, and both teams walked off the pitch clearly frustrated with their lack of progress. There was a sense when the second half opened that the first goal of the match would be the winner. Michigan made some key changes during the half, as well as making some substitutions early in the half to introduce some fresh energy. The heat of the day proved to be a big part of the game, with the referee calling a water-break for each half. This meant that Michigan’s players off the bench had the chance to be instrumental in the game, putting increased pressure on a tired KW team that had primarily defensive players on the bench. Coach Martin Painter brought Wesley Cain onto the field in the 64th minute for Darren Rios, hoping that Cain “would bring some pace” to the game. Cain would be the only substitution that Painter would make, largely due to the primarily defensive bench that was available. As the coach explained after the game, there was no reason to change the defensive lineup since KW United defense “had been strong for most of the game”, making few mistakes. Indeed, Mathieu Laurent was awarded the Grand River Union MVP; the first defender to receive that honour as a result of his skillful and aggressive play in the game.
In the 67th minute, a breakdown in the young Blues’ defense resulted in a lone Buck facing off against Scott Levene inside the box. The score remained at nil when the shot went over the crossbar, much to the relief of local team. In the 83rd minute, KW fans thought the stalemate had finally been broken when Ken Krolicki put his shot into the back of the net from inside the box. Unfortunately for United, Krolicki was a few steps offside and the goal did not count. The stalemate was finally broken in the 88th minute when another breakdown in KW defence led to a strike from James Haupt from the left side that slid past Levine. Jared Timmer picked up the assist on the play.
To their credit, KW United did not stop pressing for the equalizer until the final whistle was blown after 5 minutes of stoppage time. There was a close chance when a Krolicki cross found a United player right inside the box. There was a tussle for the ball that ended with a quick ground shot that was deftly collected by the Bucks’ keeper. The young Blues continued to press, but were unsuccessful in breaking through the defense.
The sentiment of the players after the game was plain on their faces: frustration and exhaustion. They had given the game their all, and as Painter said after the game; “the first goal was crucial”. Yet the play was even and exciting, and it is certain that the rivalry stocked between these two teams will not end with this game. KW will go on the road this Wednesday to face Michigan on their home turf, and if both teams hold the two top spots in the division; they will likely again meet in the playoffs. This is a matchup that will continue to create excitement and draw fans, and as Painter expressed after the game, KW United is certainly “sick of losing” to the Bucks.