Duluth Crowned Champions of the Midwest Region In Intense Penalty Shootout

AFC Ann Arbor vs. Duluth FC
Huron High School | Ann Arbor, MI
7.21.18 | Midwest Region Final

For the first time in the club’s short history Duluth FC won the Midwest Region Final, but the road to their biggest ever title was not an easy one. In their way, along with a tough semi-final against Minneapolis City, were Great Lakes Conference champions and playoff hosts AFC Ann Arbor. The BlueGreens would be facing a club they’d never played in their first final, a club that went 9-1-2 in their conference and has won said conference two years in a row.

With both sides finding the net three times before PK’s, it should be clear that it was as eventful a match as many would have hoped. The one surprise came via just how quick the goals came. At the half time mark Duluth found themselves up 3-2. Their first came in the 12th minute via a Ryan Tyrer header, a phrase featured across Duluth’s season. It was Tyrer’s sixth goal of the campaign and second of the playoffs, along with another tally in Tom Corcoran’s list of assists. Ann Arbor found their equalizer in the 23rd minute via Chris Odhiambo. With plenty of game to play, Ann Arbor quickly found themselves behind again as Joe Watt found the back of the net off of kickoff. A long ball to the wing found its way to Watt, who took on his man and slotted in a low cross into the box. The ball, however, managed to fumble past the keeper, Nick Barry, and gave Duluth back their lead.

Duluth found another goal before the half as Kyle Farrar and Brooks Rice combined for a smart tap in, the final touch coming from Farrar who grabbed his fifth of the campaign and 19th in the NPSL. Great service and a clever header gave Ann Arbor back a goal in the 43rd minute and kept the tension high for both sides going into half time.

With the first half containing five goals, many expected an action packed second half. In many ways there was much to watch, but little in the form of goals. Ann Arbor would hit the post three times, each a thunderbolt of a kick that surely would have been a goal of the playoffs contender if it had gone in. With mere minutes left to defend their lead, Duluth made substitutions to keep their side fresh. Despite these efforts, Ann Arbor found their equalizer in dramatic fashion as Azaad Liadi managed to get a touch on the ball amidst a crowded group of players from both sides and headed it past keeper Jan Hoffelner.

Added extra time brought more chances and more substitutions, but toward the end it became clear both sides were planning out their PK’s. In preparation for the shootout, Duluth subbed on keeper Alberto Ciroi for Hoffelner in the final minutes of AET. Ciroi had played in two previous shootouts for Duluth, one a USOC match against the Dakota Fusion in which he didn’t concede a single PK. The other was Duluth’s playoff match against Grand Rapids, in which he subbed on late in a similar fashion and stopped two penalties. Ciroi came up big against Ann Arbor, stopping two penalties and making contact with another two. Ann Arbor’s Nick Barry kept his side in the game by stopping Aidan Hill’s penalty, but Liam Moore’s follow up was enough to slot Duluth through and earn his side it’s biggest honor in club history.

While Ann Arbor never ceased to play well and challenge Duluth for the title, Duluth’s three goals against the side in regulation time may come as a surprise when looking at their stats. Ann Arbor only conceded four goals in the regular season and won their other playoff game against Cleveland SC 1-0. The three goals are not only the most they’ve conceded in a single NPSL game this year, it’s also nearly doubled the goals they’ve conceded in 2018.

Duluth will now face Miami FC 2 as part of the NPSL’s 2018 Final Four on July 28th. The match will be hosted by Miami, who are the second team of the NASL’s Miami FC. Miami FC joined the NASL in 2016 and won the 2017 Fall and Spring championships in 2017.

Lineups –
Duluth FC Starting XI: Gonnie Ben-Tal, Tom Corcoran, Kyle Farrar, Santiago Castro, Jan Hoffelner, Soham Kathuria, Julian Villegas, Brooks Rice, Ryan Tyrer, Joe Watt, Sora Wakabayashi
Subs: Aidan Hill for Tom Corcoran, Nico Railef for Soham Kathuria, Liam Moore for Brooks Rice, Ricardo Ramos for Joe Watt, Leonardo Almeida for Kyle Farrar, Ivan Adika for Santiago Castro, Alberto Ciroi for Jan Hoffelner

‘12 – Ryan Tyrer (DFC)
’23 – Chris Odhiambo (AFC)
’25 – Joe Watt (DFC)
’40 – Kyle Farrar (DFC)
’43 – Jack Cawley (AFC)
’90 – Azaad Liadi (AFC)

Duluth’s penalties scored by: Ricardo Ramos, Gonnie Ben-Tal, Julian Villegas, Liam Moore