GRFC Sits At the Top of the Table
For the first time in its NPSL history, Grand Rapids FC sits at the top of the table in the Great Lakes West Conference. The Boys in Blue took four points out of a possible six in a pair of league match-ups this weekend, and needed a little help from their friends in Hamtramck – as well as some help from the woodwork – to leap over previous leader AFC Ann Arbor.
The Blues began the two match weekend with a tough away contest at Detroit City FC on Friday evening. The game saw a lot of back and forth action, with both teams pressing high to win back possession and to pressure the opposing defense.
Grand Rapids saw the first opportunity on goal. In the 16 th minute, midfielder Lito Esquivel worked his way down to the end line then played a ball across the mouth of goal that just slipped past the head of forward Scott Doney.
Detroit then saw a number of chances on GRFC’s goal. Seconds after the start of the second half, DCFC’s Tommy Catalano made a run into the box and put a ball off the post that caromed away from danger.
In the 66th minute, Detroit was awarded a penalty kick. Grand Rapids FC goalkeeper Noah Fazekas rose to the occasion and kept the game scoreless by denying DCFC’s Cyrus Saydee.
Grand Rapids saw its best opportunity of the second half come in the 76th minute as Mark Barone played a beautiful ball into the box for Scott Doney. Doney’s ensuing header was right at the keeper, however, and the game remained tied at 0-0.
Detroit had one final look on frame in the 83rd minute, but again, the shot was just off target as Danny Deakin put a shot off the cross bar. The game then ended as a scoreless draw.
“They hit the bar and the post, I went over and gave it a kiss at the end of the game,” said goalkeeper Noah Fazekas. “We stuck together and battled it out, they had chances, we had a few chances ourselves on the counter, but it took a total team effort to get out of there with a point.”
“The emphasis was to play with a rigid, well-organized, and disciplined defensive strategy, and we worked a little bit on counter-attacking, so that was something that we planned, and obviously you need a little bit of luck,” said head coach George Moni. “Psychologically we knew it was going to be difficult because they were going to get the support of their fans, and after losing to us 5-2 (earlier in the season) – it’s about pride in this game – their fans were pushing them to play harder. It was a good result.”
Grand Rapids returned to Houseman Field for its second matchup of the season against the Dayton Dynamo on Sunday. Against Dayton, GRFC controlled the tempo and created a majority of the chances.
The Boys in Blue saw their first opportunity early on. In the 6th minute, midfielder Lito Esquivel stole the ball at the edge of the offensive third. Working his way past a defender, Esquivel laid the ball off for Noble Sullivan but the ensuing shot was just wide of frame.
In the 32 nd minute, Grand Rapids tallied the only goal it would need for the game. Receiving the ball at the top of the box, forward Scott Doney played a ball to his left to Tyler Fischer. Gaining just a step on his defender, Fischer hit a rocket shot top shelf that beat the Dynamo keeper to give GRFC a 1-0 lead.
“Fischer is one of those players that has outstanding abilities – physically, technically, tactically – he is a very complete player,” said Moni. “When he accelerates at people with the ball at his feet he is very dangerous. Very pleased to see he scored the winning goal today and gave us the three points.”
The Blues had a pair of chances within a minute of each other early in the second half. In the 59th minute, Scott Doney put a ball on frame that was just tipped over the bar. Seconds later, a header from Noble Sullivan was headed off the goal line by a Dayton defender.
Grand Rapids then settled in, controlling the run of play in the midfield and holding off the Dynamo to claim the 1-0 win.
“With just a day’s rest it was tough, we had a lot of heavy legs out there,” said midfielder Greg Timmer, who was key in dictating the tempo of the match. “It was nice that we got that goal when we did and we kind of settled in and played some defense and took our three points.”
“Coming after that big Detroit game a lot of the guys were drained, just putting our whole heart into that game,” said Fazekas. “One day’s rest, we got it, recovered good, and came back here and battled again. Just like Detroit, everyone stuck together and today we got the three points.”
The tie over Detroit and the win over Dayton, coupled with a 3-1 Detroit victory over AFC Ann Arbor on Sunday evening, puts Grand Rapids on top of the table with 19 points with two games to play. Ann Arbor sits in second with 18 points while Detroit is in third with 16 points. Both Ann Arbor and Detroit have two games remaining as well.
One of AFC Ann Arbor’s remaining games is a match-up against Grand Rapids FC at Houseman Field on Friday night. GRFC lost the first meeting between the clubs 3-1 in Ann Arbor on Memorial Day.
“We’re looking to get a little bit of revenge against Ann Arbor because they took it to us pretty good at their home field,” said Timmer. “The feeling is still there of that loss and we’d like to hand it back to them.”
Friday night’s contest is scheduled to kickoff at 7:45 p.m.