BY DAN DUGGAN
ROCHESTER HILLS — The run is over.
The Michigan Bucks run towards Open Cup history ended Tuesday night when the home team was defeated by the Dayton Dutch Lions 2-1 in a game that reached double overtime and a shootout in a contest played in front of 1,100 fans at Oakland University..
The fourth round win for Dayton, a Pro3 level team, puts Dutch Lions, into the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup where they will travel to Kansas City on Tuesday, June 26, to play Sporting KC of Major League Soccer (MLS).
The Bucks came out a bit shaky defensively in the opening minutes but quickly settled into their aggressive tempo. Lions forward Eli Garner created several early runs that had the Bucks back line on their heels before he finally opened the game’s scoring.
While colliding with a Bucks defender at the top of the penalty box, the ball fell to his feet with only Bucks keeper Adam Grinwas to beat, and he calmly chipped him for a 1-0 Dayton lead in the 12th minute. The goal served as a wakeup call to the Bucks, who proceeded to take control of the game offensively with continuous pressure from Tom Catalano and Nermin Crnkic.
In between offensive counter attacks by the lower division PDL side, Grinwis came up with two big saves to keep the Dayton lead at 1-0 into halftime.
Bucks coach Gary Parsons’ game plan was working fairly well into the second half, when injuries caused the Bucks some real problems. The US Open Cup operates under FIFA rules, where each team is only allowed three substitutes for the game.
“We expected a long night and a very physical battle. The plan was to go into half time tied or close, if we didn’t have a lead and then make the offensive substitutions that would change the game,” offered Parsons. “With Simon (Omekanda) and Stew (Givens) having to come out to injury, we were never able to bring on Kenny (Uzoigwe) or Stefan (St. Louis) to finish off the scoring. Kenny would have been the difference maker in the second half and over time, but we didn’t have the ability to sub him in.”
Parsons first sub of the game was replacing forward Steve Miller with Anthony Grant at halftime. Grant has played in two PDL games this year and has scored two goals in each, so the young Jamaican from Bowling Green University was ready for the call.
In the 55th minute, Grant would beat his defender to the ball at the penalty spot, leave him on the ground and struck side netting when he buried his shot past Dayton keeper Matt Williams to knot the score at 1-1.
Two minutes later Givens would pull up with a hamstring injury that would force Parsons to use a valuable sub in the back line. Joey Dillon was called on to finish the game at right back.
In the 72nd minute Omekanda pulled up lame and had to be replaced by Zach Steinberger, who added instant life to Catalano and Crnkic, who were relentless all night long. With the Bucks lineup complete for the evening, the home side knew they needed a goal in regulation to insure they would not have to play down a man if another injury occurred.
Michigan dominated from the time Steinberger entered the game and he created three spectacular chances, hitting the post on one and sending a cross through the box that only needed to find a body part to be the game winner, but somehow eluded three Michigan players at the six yard line.
The Bucks bombarded Williams’ goal with 22 shots on the night while holding Dayton to eight shot attempts, forcing the goal keeper to make several key saves. Michgian had several opportunities to score in the waning moments of regulation time, but the ball would not find the back of the net.
In overtime, it was much of the same as the younger side continued to press. Kevin Cope had two headers just creep over the bar on successive corner kicks while midfielder Scott Caldwell and defender Chad Barson continued to pick up Lion turnovers and start the counter attack looking for the winning goal.
In the 7th minute of the 30 minute overtime period, Dillon was isolated on his Lions attacker just inside the penalty box when he awkwardly challenged for the ball. The Lions player went down and referee Kevin Terry Jr. pointed to the spot, much to the dismay of the Bucks bench and the partisan crowd. Michigan native Joel Delass slipped his PK inside the post just past the outstretched arm of Grinwas who guessed the right way but was a few inches short.
The Bucks went back to the offensive attack and threw everyone forward for the remaining 23 minutes and created a couple of free kicks that would also just miss the mark.
“This is a funny game,” said Parsons. “Sometimes you can dominate but just not finish. So far this year we have not really had this problem so you hate to see it crop up in a game of this magnitude; but it does happen. My heart goes out to these boys. They have played three professional teams on three consecutive Tuesdays and have taken all three to the 90th minute plus and came away two wins in the three tries. We knew we needed to get this done inside of 90 minutes because I was afraid we just wouldn’t have the legs to go on. Our schedule since we started the season three weeks ago has been absolutely brutal and isn’t going to get any easier.”
Parsons was referring to the four US Open Cup matches since May 15 and the five league matches the Bucks will play, including the match at Toronto on Thursday and against Chicago on Saturday. Michigan will have to rely on its depth to get through the rough stretch which will have the team playing nine games in just over three weeks to start off the 2012 campaign.
Bucks Chairman-CEO Dan Duggan was disappointed with the outcome but pleased with the great crowd, the recent support of the team and his players’ efforts the past three weeks.
“Yes we do live for the Open Cup opportunity and this year we took advantage of it by hosting three games in four weeks. That being said, I think US Soccer has learned a couple of things about our success,” he said. “First, you can’t have Open Cup games on four consecutive Tuesday nights in May and early June. It is not good for the players with the combined league schedule and it certainly is impossible to sell tickets in six days week after week. To have the youth clubs in the area cancel practice the past two Tuesday’s and encourage their kids to attend these high level matches was the fundamental reason why we had the success that we did.
“We feel like we pushed everyone and used a ton of favors to get people to the matches,” he continued. “With the fee structure that US Soccer is operating under now, a hosting team has to sell at least 2,000 tickets or they will lose money on the event. This will have a negative effect which will keep some teams from bidding or wanting to host in the future. I suspect there will be some changes to next year’s tournament, but all in all I am happy with most of the modifications they did put in this year and I will like to have the tournament concluding in early August. We just need a couple of weeks between each round to catch our breath, play our regular season schedule and if we host, have time to properly promote the match so everyone can make it to the event.”