The first ever meeting of Flower City Union and Gold Star FC Detroit featured a few changes from FCU’s last trip out in their loss as Salt City Union. Starting goalkeeper Michael Mejia was back, while team captain Mumbi Kweseli was out due to injury with Kyle Nelson replacing him as the captain. Up top, Matt Bolduc started with forward Alioune Diakhate relegated to the bench.
It was a beautiful night for soccer: the wildfire smoke from earlier in the week was gone, the sky was clear, sunny, and a pleasant 72 degrees. The opening half hour of the night saw probably the closest matching between teams that FCU had faced this year. Neither team really looked like they were going to pull ahead, but both enjoyed long stretches of possession. While there were a few touches of nice footwork by players such as Bolduc through the opening, FCU’s best chance came in the 25th minute. The ball was brought to the touchline around the defender and passed across the front of the goal, but Stephen Elias was judged to be offsides, hitting the ball wide of the frame regardless.
Most of the play through the first half hour had become rather stagnant. It seemed like every break for either team was called offsides. When there was a stretch of play, the referee called free kicks or gave yellow cards for any challenge (many offsides and fouls seemed like poor calls, but fair enough as they were going against both teams). That halting back and forth finally came to an end in the 33rd minute when Matt Bolduc took a pass about 15 yards out from the goal and swerved it into the top corner past the outstretched arms of the Gold Star keeper. The 41st minute saw a wonderful run of play: from the FCU keeper it was taken all the way into the Detroit box, where their attacker was taken down and the referee awarded a penalty kick. Unfortunately, Stephen Elias put it over the crossbar into the protective netting behind the goal.
While it could have been 2-0 at halftime, this is the first time they’ve led in the league this season. Part of that lead is down to captain Nelson and Malik Shaheed on defense. While there were a few slip-ups, prior to this match Gold Star’s Junior Rosero had scored 3 goals on 10 shots (according to NISA’s website’s stats which are notoriously unreliable) and FCU’s defense had virtually negated him for the first half. Luke Ferreira, as usual, has been a standout in the attack.
Whatever the Gold Star coach said in the locker room at half time really breathed new life into the club. They instantly came out attacking and with some of their best play of the entire match. After only 70 seconds they took a shot that probably should have been put in, but it bounced off the right post and they were unable to collect the rebound. The 52nd minute was where Flower City Union cemented their lead. Just outside the box an FCU player was taken down, leading to what appeared to be 2 Gold Star yellow cards and an FCU free kick. Luke Ferreira curled it around the wall into the far corner where their keeper didn’t have a chance.
The ref tried his best to keep control of the match, however his precedent of giving yellow cards for minor infractions led to an excess given in the second half. Some of these were definitely warranted, but he also gave out 4 in a single go, and within 5 minutes there had been 2 more. All these stoppages of play and injuries really killed the momentum after Ferreira’s goal.
In the 68th minute, Junior Rosero had his first real attempt. He got behind the defender, but Michael Mejia came out to cut off the angle, and he put it into the side of the net. It was a fine piece of goalkeeping highlighting his position as Sullivan’s first choice in goal. The 77th minute almost saw Bolduc net a second. The defense really couldn’t get ahold of the 4 FCU attackers, but while he put it on target, it lacked the requisite power to beat the keeper. The rebound trickled towards the line but the keeper scrambled to stop it inches away.
The ending minutes of the match were back and forth, with neither team really appearing to threaten goal. FCU made smart plays like Mejia slowly taking the ball as far into the corner of his box as he could before finally picking it up to kill as much time as possible. Gold Star just couldn’t build any real attack.
And with that, Flower City Union finally had their first league win in over a year, winning 2-0. In previous matches they surely didn’t look as bad as their 0-5 record would appear. They were usually solid defensively, but had trouble putting anything together in the attack. The minor change in line-up and tactics from head coach Jordan Sullivan meant that Gold Star FC Detroit never really got a handle on the game. It’s funny that talking to the team, over the last few months I have been told by Sullivan and at least two players, that once the first goal goes in, “the floodgates will open.” Hopefully, Kyle Nelson’s goal in Auburn was that opening of those floodgates, as 2 goals with a great midfield and defensive performance showed this team is better than scorelines would indicate.
Flower City Union returns to action next Sunday at 8 PM EDT in San Diego, followed by a Wednesday game at 10 PM EDT in Los Angeles. They are not at home again until July 1 when they take on Savannah for the first ever meeting of those clubs. It sure would be nice if they can build some momentum with this away trip and really show it off at home. Valiant 33 will have recaps of both away matches, as well as an analysis of last night’s tactics and a preview of this summer’s NISA Independent Cup to hold you over until July 1.