For the second time in eight days, the Boys in Blue faced a familiar foe in Michigan Stars. After drawing away at Stars 1-1, Grand Rapids played stout defense and received a second half tally from Anthony Bowie, his first for the club, to earn a 1-0 win at Houseman Field.
Grand Rapids nearly took the lead within the opening five minutes. A misplaced pass from a Stars defenders went right to the feet of Joe Broekhuizen who found himself one-on-one with the opposing keeper. The Stars keeper quickly cut down the angle, however, and the ensuing shot from Broekhuizen was parried away and cleared from danger.
The Boys in Blue continued to press and saw chances in the 10th minute for Jake Love and the 18th minute for Trent Vegter, but both were saved.
On the other end, the Michigan Stars attack did not see a single look on goal as the back line for Grand Rapids FC was superb. The match went into the half time break tied at 0-0.
Out of half time and looking for a goal, GRFC began to make a few substitutions which led to a change in formation. Much like the previous week against Milwaukee, bringing on speed at the wings and shifting to a 3-5-2 proved to be the key that unlocked the Michigan Stars defense.
In the 68th minute, substitute Noble Sullivan drifted inside from his wing position, and receiving the ball, made a quick turn and poked the ball between two center backs for the run of fellow substitute Anthony Bowie. Seeing the onrushing keeper, Bowie’s single touch sent the ball into the back of the net for the Grand Rapids goal and a 1-0 lead.
“Coach Moni put me in in the second half with 30 minutes remaining and he just wanted me to bring energy to the team, try to get a goal for the team and so we were able to create one,” said Bowie. “Noble played me a great ball and I was able to finish it.”
As it had in the first half, the back line for Grand Rapids was able to shut down the Stars offense, and it wasn’t until the 75th minute that goalkeeper Noah Fazekas was called upon to make a save, which turned out to be his only one of the game.
The Boys in Blue closed out the remaining 15 minutes to claim the 1-0 victory.
“We came out a lot more fired up, playing at home really helps us out,” said Fazekas, comparing the 1-0 win to the 1-1 draw against Stars a week prior. “Even last week, we started off slow, had a bad first half. We came out today knowing we needed these three points and they are very important. The back line was shut down, I think I had to make one save the whole game. The communication was spot on. Just grinded it out to get the result, and that’s what needed to be done back there.”
“We switched the formation in the second half to a 3-5-2,” said head coach George Moni. “(The formation change) makes a bigger difference based on the narrow field we have over here. After the change, we operated better on the wing, created more space, then with those two forwards, by stretching the back line, we created a lot more room to penetrate in the middle, and that’s where the goal came from.”
The win moves GRFC to 2-0-1 in the league and into third place in the NPSL Great Lakes conference with seven points. AFC Ann Arbor sits atop the standings with 12 points and a 4-1-0 record, while Lansing United is second with nine points and a 3-0-0 record.
The Boys in Blue now look forward to a Memorial Day matinee against AFC Ann Arbor at Hollway Field in Ann Arbor. Monday’s match is scheduled to kick off at 1:00 p.m.