As with every match at this point in the season, the first meeting of Michigan Stars and Flower City Union had implications for the playoff scenarios. FCU entered the away game in Romeo, Michigan lossless in their last 5 matches, sitting in 7th with 16 points. Michigan on the other hand was a bit further up the table, in 4th place with 23 points, however, they’ve been much less consistent of late. In the four meetings last season, FCU was only able to take 1 point, with 3 losses.
It was far from an ideal start for FCU though. After a slow, back-and-forth opening few minutes, the 7th minute saw that change. From inside the FCU end, the Stars sent a long pass forward to their attacker. The attacker only had maybe a step on Stephen Elias, but goalkeeper Michael Mejia came way out to go after the ball. Watching the penalty call a few times, Mejia was definitely still in the box, he definitely threw his entire body into the challenge, but while it’s questionable whether he got a piece of the defender, there’s enough there to feel a penalty was warranted. The resulting shot was easily put into the bottom corner in the opposite direction of a diving Mejia.
Most of the first half was spent through the middle, passing it back and forth and turning it over. There was not really sustained pressure from either side and only a few fleeting chances. The 34th minute saw Michigan’s best chance from open play for the half, and possibly their best playing of the half. They had a sustained amount of passing the ball back and forth through the midfield, slowly working their way to the FCU goal, culminating from a shot the 18-yard line, that curled just wide past the post and a diving Mejia. FCU’s defending was solid throughout the half, notably with a lot of balls cleared with headers. Sometimes the attack had a step on the FCU defender, but there rarely seemed to be much chance of a goal. FCU’s main issue was that they were not getting far enough forward, and had no real attack, with turnovers in midfield.
The 40th minute saw calls from FCU for a penalty shot of their own. Elias received the ball in the box, and on watching it the first time I didn’t think there was anything in it. Reviewing the play a few times, their defender just kicked him in the back of the legs, nothing at the ball, when he could have been clear on goal. But the calls were waved away, and while he went down, thankfully he wasn’t injured long. That penalty call and the last kick of the half were the only two real attacks FCU had in the half. The final kick saw a cross sent in to Matt Bolduc, who took it out of the air, but it sailed just over the bar and the first-half whistle blew.
Flower City Union started as strong as they had finished the first half, however, it all came to a crashing halt quite abruptly. Within the opening 5 minutes, after strong play from FCU, Michigan received a throw-in deep in FCU’s end. The ball landed at the feet of Maryland’s forward, and a defending Angelo Calfo raised his arm when jumping to attack it, the ball striking his arm in that position. Not only was Michigan awarded another penalty, which they easily put in, but Calfo received his second yellow and was dismissed. The remainder of the game was pretty even both ways, even though FCU was down a man.
Who do you fault for a 2-0 loss with two penalty shot goals? I don’t fault Mejia. He had to come out and attack the ball, and while it was a bit wild, the outcome would have ended up with just as good a chance on goal had he not given away a penalty. He also made some very good plays later. I don’t fault Calfo. Sure, he should have kept his arm down, but it was also probably a point-blank shot had he not blocked it. I don’t fault the attackers for not putting points on the board, as they got better through the game until the red card, and still played well through the finish, even though the outcome was already determined. And I certainly don’t fault the defense for giving up two goals, as they were very solid in open play the entire game, especially when down a man. I don’t even blame the referees. Both penalty shots were the right call in my opinion, however, it does make me wonder how the game would have gone had they given one FCU’s way the the challenge on Elias late in the first half. But that’s not how the sport works, and it’s a game of judgment calls and sometimes things are missed. It just wasn’t Flower City Union’s night, and they paid for it.