BY DAN STICKRADT
PONTIAC — It took three attempts this season, but FC London finally solved the Michigan Bucks. This time it came on much bigger stage.
The third-seeded team in the Central Conference, FC London stunned top-seeded Michigan Bucks, 2-1, Sunday night in the Premier Development League Central Conference finals at the Ultimate Soccer Arenas.
The win secured FC London’s first Final Four berth in its brief four-year history and improved its record to 9-5-4. Michigan, the top-ranked team in the 73-franchise league, finished 17-3-2, one win shy of its fifth semifinals appearance.
“This is our first time — in our fourth year,” smiled FC London coach Martin Painter of his team’s first conference championship. “We’re down to the Final Four now and hoping for good omens. We’re looking forward to it.”
FC London built a 2-0 lead and held on down the stretch despite seeing Michigan put tremendous pressure on the team’s back line throughout the entire second half. That created some tense moments for the surprise of the PDL postseason.
“That an understatement,” sighed Painter. “Michigan has tremendous talent and they made it a little bit nervous with that goal to get back into the game. Until that point, we played fantastic. We just executed really well.”
FC London didn’t make many changes from the first two times they faced the Bucks, which were both one-goal losses (2-1 and 1-0).
“Not drastically. The first two times we played them they were both really good games,” offered Painter. “Michigan’s a great team and we knew we had to come in here and play one of our best games and we did that.”
FC London tallied first at 20:44 of the first half. Martin Lange threaded the needle with a quick pass to Jordan Ayris, who got behind his defender to beat Bucks goalkeeper Adam Grinwis on a breakaway.
FC London built a two-goal cushion on a counterattack goal at 66:16. This time Tom Owens’ pass into the middle was retrieved by Lange, who did a nice spin move around his mark before lacing a shot inside the near post from 15 yards out, which turned out to be the game-winner.
Making several substitutions in search of offensive production, the Bucks began to mount pressure and finally scored in the 74th minute.
Anthony Grant broke free down the right sideline and his long cross hit the far post. Tommy Catalano was there to pounce on the rebound from close range to cut the deficit down to one goal.
Michigan outshot FC London by a 14-6 margin, including 7-4 with shots directly on frame. The Bucks could not net the equalizer down the stretch.
“I told the boys that we would not get shut out. We have (only been shut out once) this season,” noted Bucks coach Gary Parsons. “We told them to not let them get a second goal and then they did on that set piece. We had so many chances, but all we could get was the one goal.
“I thought all of our subs did a great job,” added Parsons. “We began to create a lot of opportunities. We played with a lot of energy. We just couldn’t get the goal to tie it up.”
FC London goalkeeper Reece Richardson finished the night with six saves and was quite active on crossing patrolling the penalty area. More importantly, Richardson and his teammates came in and slowed the nation’s No. 1 offense, as Michigan had outscored the opposition 58-14 heading into the contest.
Grinwis made two saves in a losing effort for Michigan.
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