BY DAN DUGGAN
PITTSBURGH — Another one bites the dust.
The Michigan Bucks of the United Soccer Leagues (USL) Premier Development League (PDL) upset yet another professional team in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup on Tuesday.
The oldest tournament in American sports is celebrating its 99th year and the Bucks are enjoying every minute of the party. The Bucks invaded Pittsburgh on Tuesday night and upset the Riverhounds (USL Pro-Division III) 1-0 on a 90th minute penalty kick goal by Bucks captain Stew Givens.
Givens, the three-year veteran and reigning PDL defender of the year, calmly stepped up and slotted home his penalty kick into the side netting with a hard fought battle in the balance. The win vaults the Bucks into a US Open Cup Round Three match up with Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Chicago Fire at Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Pontiac on May 29.
The Bucks have a storied history of success against USL professional teams since they first entered the Open Cup in 1997. Since then the team has a 7-3 record after Tuesday night’s win against teams in divisions higher than the PDL. The Bucks played the Riverhounds in the 2006 Open Cup and came away with a 2-0 win.
Tuesday night’s match was a difficult test for the Bucks, who came out firing from the opening whistle. The junior side pounded the Riverhounds goal the entire first half but could not get anything past goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap, who recorded four saves on the night, but that didn’t tell the story. The Bucks attacked relentlessly for the entire first half with long throw ins and corner kicks and won most balls in the air, but went into halftime in a scoreless draw.
The Riverhounds made two second half substitutions that added a spark to their offense and began dominating the offensive third between the 60th and 75th minute. During that stretch, the Bucks defense stood tall, blocking shots from every imaginable angle and relied on their backstop in goal, Adam Grinwas, to keep the professionals off the scoreboard.
Grinwas not only stood on his head keeping the Bucks even, but made the save of the season from the seat of his pants in the 86th minute to further frustrate the home side. After making the first point blank save off a Pittsburgh corner kick, Grinwas made a two-handed save of a shot from five yards away and cleared the ensuing rebound with his feet to save the visitors.
The Bucks (3-0-0) continued to pressure offensively with the addition of second half subs Stefan St. Louis and Nermin Crnkic, who sparked the attack in the game’s waning moments.
Crnkic collected a ball at the top of the box and drove towards goal in the game’s 90th minute when he was clipped from behind by Pittsburgh defender Louie Rolko. Givens, a team captain, stepped up to the penalty spot with a berth against an MLS club on the line and converted for the fifth consecutive time for the Bucks from the penalty spot. The Bucks would handle the last three minutes of extra time to upset the Riverhounds and move on to play again in a week.
Both teams knew tonight’s prize was a date with the MLS’s Chicago Fire. Bucks head coach Gary Parsons didn’t discuss the opportunity with his team pre game, but knew the visions weighed heavy on his players.
“Every year many of the top players from around the country and other parts of the world come to play for the Michigan Bucks so that they will have an opportunity to get recognized by coaches from MLS,” said Parsons. “There is no better audition than to play 90 minutes in front of them with a tournament game on the line. The boys knew what was at stake tonight and they desperately wanted a result. I believe they played well enough to deserve what they got.
“It is always tough to win or lose a game on a penalty kick, but Nermin did his job by beating his man and penetrating the box when he was brought down,” continued Parsons. “I wish we would have scored earlier in the game when we were dominating, as it would have made all of our lives a bit easier. We let them get into a rhythm in the second half and we nearly paid dearly for it. Adam Grinwas proved today why he is a top MLS prospect in goal. He made four or five saves that many pro keepers just don’t make.”
The Bucks head home to play the Hamilton FC Rage as part of the Canton Cup soccer tournament on Saturday at Independence Park in Canton. Admission is free to the Memorial weekend event compliments of the Canton Cup Tournament organizers. A special Memorial Day tribute to the area’s veterans is scheduled for 12 noon as the Bucks and Rage kick off for the Buck’s fifth consecutive season at the area’s largest annual soccer tournament.
The Bucks will then quickly turn their attention to the Fire, the fifth MLS team to come to Michigan to encounter the PDL powerhouse since 1999. Ultimate Soccer Arenas’ limited seating of less than 2,000 is certain to sell out quickly once the Bucks put tickets on sale on Thursday at 5 p.m. Fans will be able to purchase tickets on line at www.buckssoccer.com. Tickets are $15 VIP reserved seating or $12 General Admission at the door the day of the game. There are a limited amount of reserved seats that will go quickly. The general admission tickets can be purchased for a discounted price of only $10 until game day by purchasing on line or at the Ultimate Soccer. To find out more about how to get tickets to MLS only visit to Detroit this year, please visit the Bucks web site and click on the tickets link.