BY DAN STICKRADT
PONTIAC — Throughout its history, the Michigan Bucks have earned the reputation of being a nuisance in the soccer community, largely from teams from higher divisions of U.S. Soccer’s hierarchy.
The Bucks furthered that reputation again Tuesday night.
Michigan stunned the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer, 3-2, in double overtime in a third-round game of the annual Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at the Ultimate Soccer Arenas.
Nermin Crnkic, a 19-year-old from East Kentwood who played on three Division 1 state championship teams (2007, 2009 and 2010) while in high school, scored the game-winner 2:20 into the first overtime session and the Bucks’ defense held on for the upset.
“This is completely different than winning the state championships,” admitted Crnkic, who just finished a professional stint overseas in Sweeden. “This was against professionals, a different level. But this is unbelievable, coming in and beating a team like that.”
Michigan (5-0-0), a powerhouse team in the USL-Premier Developmental League for close to two decades, will host the USL-First Division Dayton Dutch Lions next week at a time to be determined.
On a night where an unusual three MLS teams went down to lower tier franchises, the Bucks became the only PDL team to do it twice in its history. Michigan also stunned the New England Revolution in a third-round game back in 2000.
Bucks coach Gary Parsons used that as motivational fuel before Tuesday’s contest.
“We have a bunch of guys that think they are good players and they went out there and went after them. They didn’t back down,” said Parsons, a longtime coach at Oakland University who took over the Bucks three years ago. “I brought up the fact that we did this before (beat an MLS team). The guys believed they could do it.
“Soccer is a game where upsets can happen,” added Parsons. “It’s not like baseball, or basketball or football. In baseball, a (lower-tier) team might lose by 10-15 runs, or get blown out by 40-50 points in basketball. In soccer, it is a sport where the upsets can happen.”
Tommy Catalano beat his mark just outside of the corner of the box and sent a low cross through traffic to Crnkic, who blasted home the game-winner from 12 yards out to help the home side rally back from a 2-1 deficit.
Michigan scored first in the ninth minute. Kenny Uzoigwe found a streaking Catalano down the right side and Catalano ripped a shot to the far post from 16 yards out.
Chicago (5-5-3) pulled even in the 29th minute on a goal by Corben Bone. Tony Walls’ long throw in into the penalty box was redirected by Fedrico Puppo over to Bone, who blasted a shot from the top of the box inside the left post.
Chicago, which sat nine regular starters, took advantage of another Michigan defensive breakdown in the 51st minute when Puppo cashed in on a breakaway, beating Bucks goalkeeper Adam Grinwis from 22 yards in front of the goal.
Michigan had the answer at 78:47, this time with Nathaniel Boyden finishing off a cross from Crnkic.
That set the stage for overtime.
“We’ll play Dayton and I don’t know much about them because they upset the Columbus us Crew and we scouted the Crew on Saturday night,” said Parsons. “But this is a great moment for these guys, regardless. We’ll prepare for (Dayton) and see what happens.”
Chicago outshot Michigan by a slim 15-14 count, including 7-6 with shots directly on goal. Grinwis finished five saves for Michigan, while Paolo Tornaghi made three saves for Chicago.
“I thought we had a good game plan and we came out and executed it,” offered Parsons. “I knew that they had more talent than us and that they would out-possess us. But we made the most of some of our opportunities and we were able to upset them.”
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