The NPSL Midwest Region no longer has an undefeated team. On Sunday Lansing United relinquished its spot in first place in a grueling away defeat to Detroit City FC, dropping to third as their in-state rivals assumed top of the league table.
With dynamic forward Cholo Petit injured and unavailable for the match, Lansing reverted to a 4-4-2 formation, with captain Matt Brown and Stephen Owusu partnering up top to lead the United attack. But they saw little of the ball in the first 45 minutes, as Detroit maintained a near monopoly on possession.
“It took us too long in the first half to actually get into the game. We didn’t find a way to really grasp a hold of things,” United head coach/GM Eric Rudland said.
But the home side couldn’t produce a quality scoring opportunity against the United defense until the 29th minute, when a free kick from the right wing bounced around for several seconds in the United box before a Lansing defender managed to clear it.
Invigorated by their success Detroit began to create more attacking opportunities, and the ball rarely left the United half for a sustained 10-minute stretch which produced several free kicks, corners and crosses for Detroit. But the United defense continued to hold steady despite the mounting pressure.
Detroit’s breakthrough finally came in the 39th minute. After a Detroit clearance, Detroit forward Will Mellors-Blair gained control of the ball just past midfield, flicked the ball over one United defender and streaked past a second before slotting the ball clinically into the far corner of goalkeeper Quinn McAnaney’s net.
Just before halftime the Hoops had a glorious chance to score. United midfielder Jason Stacy collected Detroit’s clearance off a Lansing corner and whipped in a beautiful in-swinging cross from the right wing. Slow to step, the Detroit defense left Brown onside and unmarked, and his header was kept out only by an acrobatic save from goalkeeper Alex Bouillennec.
The second half began with what looked like a United side full of renewed determination, with the first 10 minutes of possession evening out considerably.
“In the second half we did a much better job of grasping the game and creating chances,” Rudland said. “It’s just unfortunate we give away a goal in the first half and we had a hard time coming back.”
The game morphed into a dogged battle, both sides fighting to find the next goal. Then came the decisive moment. From a pass played into him from the wing, United midfielder Charlie Constantino flicked his first touch around a first Detroit defender and managed to get a second touch on the ball before Detroit captain Josh Rogers tackled him from side, causing Constantino to go down in what seemed like a clear foul. But no whistle sounded from the center referee and United were forced to play on.
Rudland displayed plenty of tactical creativity throughout the game. With 10 minutes to go United’s head coach had used all five of his outfield substitutes, as well as switching formations several times. United finished the game with three defenders and four of the five substitutes making up a completely different midfield.
But in the end it wasn’t enough. Despite the bold inventiveness from the coaching staff and gritty performances from several United stalwarts, Lansing couldn’t find a way into the back of the net. The dying minutes were a textbook display of gamesmanship, as Detroit bled precious seconds away with constant substitutions while United players rushed to get the ball in play. But finally the whistle sounded and United walked away empty handed.
Lansing United drop to third place in the NPSL Midwest league standings behind Detroit and the Madison 56ers, but remain nearby with a game in hand. United next takes on the Michigan Stars at home in East Lansing on July 3.
“We’re in a tough side of the bracket where we have to play some of the top teams in the league multiple times. It is what it is,” Rudland said. “We’ve got to be ready—we have four more games left and for us its all about the next game.”