In its first season in existence, Lansing United has been crowned champion.
United tied Detroit City F.C. 2-2 on Saturday, which secured the Great Lakes West Conference Championship. The team will represent the conference in the Midwest Region Playoffs.
“I don’t think we all really knew what we were getting into at the beginning of the year,” goalkeeper Zach Bennett said. “It turned into something way more than I ever expected. I’m so proud of the coaches, the team and just the whole organization. To win the championship in the first year, I really can’t explain it.”
“We deserved it,” Captain Matt Brown said. “We worked so hard today and it’s just amazing,”
Gabe Mateo’s goal in the 66th minute turned out to be the clincher for United.
Mateo, who came on as a sub in the 65th minute, took a pass from Brown from inside the box and put it home to give United a 2-1 lead. DCFC scored in stoppage time to tie the game at 2-2, but it did not matter, as the draw was enough for United to advance.
“I didn’t expect it to come that early, but Brown got a ball, looked up and made eye contact and I held my run and he played a perfect ball and I just put it away,” Mateo said. “Playing with all these players and making big goals like this, it feels great”
United got on the board in the 20th minute when Brown scored a diving header off a cross from Brian Cunninham, but DCFC leveled the score 1-1 soon after, as Josh Rogers converted a penalty after Austin Dunn was called for a foul inside the United box.
Both teams had a number of chances to start the second half, but both goalkeepers stood tough.
United keeper Zach Bennett recorded just two saves in the match, but was key to United’s victory.
“For him to answer the bell when it was rung was superb,” head coach Eric Rudland said. “I think the guys really rallied around that. He made those key saves in the second half and I think that just gave the group more confidence heading into the final minutes.”
“I really wanted the ‘W’,” Bennett said. “I though we played well and deserved the win, but I’ll take the tie, take the point and take the championship.”
The game was played in front in an electric atmosphere, as over 2,000 people showed up to DeMartin Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University.
“This is the loudest crowd I’ve seen at DeMartin,” Tim Kreutz, who plays collegiately for Michigan State, said.
United will now move on the the Midwest Region Playoffs next weekend. The tournament consists of four team, the champion from each division and one wild card team, and will be held next Saturday and Sunday at a location to be determined.
“At the end of the day we’re just proud and excited and ready for the next step,” Kreutz said.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t take a moment to admire the work this team has done.
“The guys we have brought in have just responded so well to what we are trying to accomplish,” Rudland said. “Let’s be honest, you have to have some things go your way to win the league and we’ve been fortunate in a few matches to have things go our way. There are a lot of moving parts to be at the top of the league and its just a credit to the organization and everyone involved.”