GRFC Top Ten Moments of 2016
10. The Grand Army “catches” Lansing United Player catching Pokémon
What is a list of the best moments of Grand Rapids FC’s season without a mention of the best supporter group in the NPSL? Well, in moment #10, it was the quick eye of a Grand Army member that caught a Lansing United player on his phone and playing Pokemon GO. The player later confessed to playing the app on the sideline – unfortunately for him, the Pokemon escaped, much like the match on the field did his team as Grand Rapids earned the victory 3-1.
9. Win over Lansing at Houseman Seals an Undefeated Record at Home
With a win the week before against AFC Ann Arbor, a moment that will be featured later in this list, Grand Rapids FC had already claimed the top spot in the Great Lakes West and a berth in the NPSL playoffs. That didn’t mean there was nothing at stake in the final regular season home match. GRFC entered the contest with an 8-1-0 record at Houseman Field, and not only did the squad want to keep that unblemished home record, it also wanted to keep the momentum rolling for the upcoming playoffs. Well, the team did exactly that, defeating visiting Lansing United 3-1. Tyler Fischer scored the opener, Jared Timmer added a beautiful curling finish for the go-ahead score, and Elmedin Zukic, returning from serious injury, made his first appearance and scored the final tally in stoppage time.
8. GRFC Beats Muskegon Risers to Avenge 2015 Losses
The Boys in Blue ended the 2015 season with a pair of matches against lakeshore opponent Muskegon Risers. GRFC lost both, leaving a bad taste in the team’s mouth for an otherwise successful inaugural campaign. For that reason, the early season 1-0 victory against the Risers was that much sweeter for Grand Rapids. Greg Timmer scored the lone goal in the 8th minute and Dary DeWalt earned the clean sheet in goal as GRFC earned its first win in the budding non-league rivalry.
7. Stu Holden and Brian Ching March With the Grand Army
The Grand Army makes its second appearance in the top 10 countdown, with a couple of special guests. A pair of former members of the United States Men’s National Team, Brian Ching and Stu Holden, joined the Grand Army at Bob’s Bar for the pregame festivities then marched with the supporter group to Houseman Field. Ching, Holden, and former United States Women’s National Team member Lindsey Tarpley were in Grand Rapids holding a soccer camp with their training organization, HELM Elite.
“When you’re walking with a couple hundred, 500, 600 people in a march with smoke and cheers and passion for soccer in America it is really, really cool to see,” said Stu Holden in an interview with Fox 17. “What they have going on here in Grand Rapids is awesome. It’s awesome for soccer, it’s awesome for Grand Rapids. Whatever this may be in the long term it’s growing our sport and that’s what is important.”
6. 3-0 Win over Cross-Town Rivals Ole SC
Grand Rapids FC opened up its 2016 campaign against another amateur squad in Grand Rapids, Ole SC. Ole SC, looking to fill the gap left by GRFC in the re-branded Premier League of America, could not match the strength and skill of the Boys in Blue as GRFC claimed a 3-0 win in front of 5,448 fans at Houseman Field. Much like the home opener in 2015, it was players by the last name of Barone that starred in the match. Brothers Mark and Hunter each netted a goal, with Tyler Fischer adding the third.
5. Lito’s Brace in Kalamazoo
GRFC’s match against Kalamazoo FC away at Kalamazoo was a game that turned into a spring-board for the remainder of the NPSL season. The Boys in Blue were struggling to pick up results away from home up to that point, having drawn away matches at Michigan Stars and Lansing United, and dropped an away match at AFC Ann Arbor. Enter Lito Esquivel. Stepping up to a direct free kick just outside the box in the 30th minute, Esquivel hit a dipping ball that slipped under the cross bar to give Grand Rapids a 1-0 lead. A dozen minutes later, Esquivel doubled the lead and his goal tally on another spectacular free kick. The defense then finished off the win, holding Kalamazoo FC scoreless. The victory was the second match in an eleven game unbeaten streak to end the regular season for GRFC.
4. Peter Brown Scores First NPSL Goal Ever
Playing its first NPSL match away against Michigan Stars, it didn’t take long for Grand Rapids FC to make history. Just 48 seconds after the opening whistle, a flick-on header from Nick Abdoo landed at the feet of defender Peter Brown who slipped it past the Stars keeper for the team’s first goal in the NPSL. The Stars matched the goal in the 35th, and although GRFC went down to ten men in the 75th minute, the Boys in Blue held on for a 1-1 tie and the team’s first point in NPSL history.
3. Noah’s Penalty Save at DCFC
After a 5-2 drubbing of Detroit City FC at Houseman Field, the away match at recently renovated Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck promised to be fast-paced and full of emotion. While both teams had their chances on goal, the best came after a debatable call in the GRFC goal box awarded a penalty kick to the Detroit City. With all the momentum in DCFC’s favor, Noah Fazekas dove to his left as he correctly guessed the direction of the spot kick, parrying the ball wide and keeping the game scoreless. The game ended in a 0-0 tie as Grand Rapids claimed a tough away point, with the biggest moment of the match being the Fazekas save.
2. A Playoff and Conference Title win over Ann Arbor
The largest regular season crowd in team history showed up to support the Boys in Blue as they looked to lay claim to the top spot in the Great Lakes West Conference. Grand Rapids was also looking to avenge its only blemish on the schedule, a 3-1 loss earlier in the season away at Ann Arbor. After playing a scoreless first half, AFC Ann Arbor was first on the board seconds into the second. Grand Rapids responded in the 56th minute as a long throw-in from Trent Vegter found Jared Timmer at the back post who headed it in. GRFC then took the lead in the 75th minute as substitute Noble Sullivan swiped the ball from just in front of the opposing keeper then found the back of the net to send the 6,854 fans in attendance into a frenzy. A stoppage-time tally from Gabe Mateo then left no doubt that GRFC would clinch the top spot in the Great Lakes West Conference and a place in the NPSL Midwest Regional Playoffs.
1. Noble Scores to Give the Boys in Blue It’s First Playoff Win
Chosen to host the NPSL Midwest Regional Playoffs, Grand Rapids FC played Indy Eleven NPSL in the team’s first postseason appearance. The Boys in Blue came out with a lot of enthusiasm and put a number of early opportunities on frame, each met by the Indy keeper, however. After a balanced end to the first half that saw neither team with strong chances, Grand Rapids began to pressure out of the halftime break. Super-sub Noble Sullivan had a turning shot saved in the 48th minute, then had another shot just off the mark in the 65th minute. Continuing the pressure, Sullivan finally broke through in the 70th minute. Receiving a pass from Lito Esquivel 30 yards out from goal, Sullivan sprinted at his defender then took a quick touch to his right. Gaining a half-step of space, Sullivan shot the ball across his body and into the bottom left corner of the goal to bring all 6,912 fans in attendance to their feet. Grand Rapids FC then held off the visiting side for the remaining 20 minutes plus stoppage time to claim the postseason win and a place in the Midwest Regional Final.