Just three weeks ago, things looked great for Lansing United. The Hoops sat atop the NPSL Midwest region, and seemed to have put their goal scoring drought in the rear view mirror after a convincing 4-0 home win.
But 313 minutes of play later, they are still waiting for another goal. And unless they find a way to end that stretch, their playoff hopes are hanging by a thread.
Lansing had barely gotten off the bus in Buffalo when they fell victim to the earliest goal surrendered in team history. FC Buffalo defender Ngwese Ebangwese stormed forward after a United turnover off the opening kickoff and slotted home the opener with just 25 seconds elapsed on the clock.
“There are no excuses, we just have to be mentally sharper out there at that first whistle,” said head coach/GM Eric Rudland. “To be fair, I thought the guys responded very well, and controlled possession and created some good scoring chances in the rest of that first half. But just too many mental errors put us in a bad spot for the rest of the match.”
With 30 minutes gone, the Hoops twice forced Buffalo defenders to clear off the line behind their keeper. Stephen Owusu looked to have the equalizer in the scramble that followed a free kick on the second chance, but Buffalo defender Fox Slotemayer rescued his team with a sliding clearance. Buffalo ended the first half with a solitary shot on target, but it was enough to carry the lead into the locker room.
Matt Brown created the best two chances for Lansing to draw level after the break, first in the 55th minute when he spun a defender inside the area but dragged his shot wide of the right post. His next opportunity in the 73rd would start the two-minute stretch that would effectively decide the match.
A misplayed long ball into the box left the Buffalo defense flat footed and gave the United captain the opening to slip in behind and create a chance with only the keeper to beat. But keeper Andrew Coughlin somehow got a hand on Brown’s shot and pushed it away to thwart the gilt-edged chance. As the ball came back up the field, the referee brandished a yellow card to Owusu for dissent – and then immediately followed it with a second one just seconds later when the Lansing forward reacted.
Less than 90 seconds later, Buffalo earned a corner kick and Brett Larocque headed it home for a two goal lead.
Buffalo’s Chris Walter only picked up a yellow card in the 67th minute when he shoved Brown to the artificial turf following a dispute with Jack Smith. Walter stayed on the field to score the prettiest goal of the night in the 90th minute, juking two Lansing defenders inside the 18-yard box and leaving keeper Wes Mink with no chance to stop his snap shot to the bottom corner.
Buffalo’s 3-0 win moved them into third place in the NPSL Midwest, while dropping Lansing out of the playoff places effectively into fifth on goal difference.
United will need six points in their final two matches and the Hoops will have to find goals to do that.
“To be fair, you lose three matches and it’s time for some other guys to get some opportunities,” said Rudland. “Hopefully the guy who didn’t start tonight can integrate into the first team for Sunday, hopefully they’re energized and they can bring some passion to the team.”
The Hoops play their final road match of the regular season on Sunday at AFC Cleveland – the team they share fourth place with – with a 2 p.m. kickoff scheduled.
Cleveland also has a game in hand, so anything less than a Lansing win will likely end any playoff hopes.