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07 / 21

CHAMPIONS: United Takes Midwest Title with 2-1 Win over Fort Pitt

WRITTEN BY: Nick Barnowski
PUBLISHED ON: July 21, 2014

Leigh Rumbold summed up what everyone was thinking Sunday night at the East Lansing Soccer Complex: “Oh man, he’s done it again.”

Done it again indeed.

Gabe Mateo cemented his status in United history by scoring yet another monumental goal, one that clinched the Midwest Region championship and a trip to the NPSL National Semifinals.

The Wyoming, Mich., native got a touch in the box and fired the ball into the back of the net in the 111th minute to give United a 2-1 lead over the Fort Pitt Regiment, a score line that would remain until the final whistle.

“It felt great,” said Mateo, who also scored the goal against Detroit City F.C. on July 13 that sealed the Great Lakes West championship for United. “I wanted to hit a one-timer, but it was bouncing so I figured just get a good touch and it went right in.”

It took 120 hard fought minutes, but the two United goals – scored 108 minutes apart – were enough to give the club a trophy in its inaugural season.

Rumbold got United off to a fast start, scoring less than three minutes into the match to put his team up 1-0. The Heatherside, England, native said it was his first goal in about four years.

“It’s pretty rare I even get in the opposition’s box, let alone score a goal,” the midfielder said. “It was a great occasion, I’m glad I came up with a goal in the final.”

Rumbold’s goal came after Fort Pitt goalkeeper Brenden Alfery caught and subsequently dropped a cross inside the box, allowing the Englishman an opportunity to score his first of the season.

United controlled the majority of the first half, but Fort Pitt, led by Neco Brett, came roaring back. Brett, a Jamaican U-20 international, scored his club’s only goal of the match off a free kick in the 33rd minute that beat United goalkeeper Zach Bennett to his left-hand side.

After giving up the goal, Bennett told himself he would not let the Regiment score again in the match, and he delivered, making nine total saves, including a huge stop against Brett late in extra time.

“That one goal they had, that’s 100 percent on me,” the Michigan State goalkeeper said. “I made it my mission to not let them score again and luckily I did that.”

In the 66th minute, United captain Matt Brown had a chance to give Lansing the lead on a penalty kick, but missed two opportunities. Alfery stopped Brown’s first attempt, but the assistant referee ruled that the Fort Pitt keeper left his line early. In Brown’s second attempt, he skied a shot high over the net.

“I know Matt’s a great player and a great captain, he knows how to shake it off,” Mateo said of the sequence. “[After that], as a team we just got in a rhythm again.”

With the score tied 1-1 after 90 minutes, the match went into extra time. In accordance with Midwest Region rules, the teams played two 15-minute periods with no golden goal, and if no one had scored, the match would have went to penalty kicks.

Brown, among many of his teammates, was exhausted after playing on back-to-back nights, but Mateo’s goal left him feeling triumphant instead of tired.

“Literally 30 seconds before, I was like [to Mateo], ‘Just please, please, anything,’” Brown said. “He just picked it and it went in the bottom corner. It’s incredible.”

Brown nearly quit the sport before coming to Lansing to play, but his time with the club, and Sunday’s victory, helped revitalize his love of the game.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s people like (head coach) Eric [Rudland] and (team owner) Jeremy [Sampson] that gave me a chance and put the belief in me to be captain and I can’t thank them anymore.”

A date in the semifinals of the NPSL National Playoffs powered by Mitre with the New York Red Bulls U-23 squad in New Jersey is next for United. The match is scheduled for next Sunday night at 7 p.m.

“If we turn up [in New Jersey] and we have a good day, we could be going even further,” Rumbold said.