Stepping up is a simple concept, but it is harder to do when a championship is on the line and it is in front of the home crowd.
Lansing United stepped up on the biggest stage of their season so far by earning a 2-1 victory over the Fort Pitt Regiment in 120 minutes.
“It’s unbelievably tough. I mean you watch high level tournaments, players have a minimum of three days to rest, so for us to turn around and come back a day after, speaks to how well these guys have taken care of themselves throughout the year,” United head coach Eric Rudland said. “The quick turn around is just the passion and pride they have playing for Lansing United.”
From the start of the game, United put pressure on the Fort Pitt defense and it only took eight minutes to find the back of the net.
Fort Pitt goalkeeper, Brenden Alfery, went up and grabbed a long throw-in from United defender, Cody Archibald, but when he came down, the ball popped out of his hands and found United midfielder, Leigh Rumbold, not far from the top of the six-yard box and poked it in the far side of the goal to give United the early 1-0 lead.
In the 35th minute, Fort Pitt would have their chance to equalize off a free kick and would convert as Pitt forward, Neco Brett, curled his shot around the United wall from just outside the top left side of the 18-yard box, and beat United goalkeeper, Zach Bennett, on the near post.
“It curled around the wall low. When it goes right around the wall, you lose it for a second,” Bennett said. “I didn’t shoot my bottom hand out. I tried to bat at it from the top and it snuck under my arm. Like I said before, it’s 100 percent my fault. I don’t blame any of the defense at all. They had an amazing game, just like they have been doing all season. I just made it my mission to not let them score again.”
Bennett’s words rang true as he played like a man possessed for the rest of the game.
In the second half, Fort Pitt put the pressure on an exhausted United team in which most of the starters had played a good amount of time in the semifinal game against Minnesota United Reserve the night before.
United started to regain their composure after making a few substitutions early in the second half and by the 63rd minute, United had a great scoring opportunity off a cross from forward Zach Pagani, which found the head of forward Matt Brown at the top of the six-yard box, but was sent wide of the goal.
Not much later in the 65th minute, Pagani was fouled inside the Fort Pitt 18-yard box and United had an opportunity to take the lead off a penalty kick.
Brown stepped up to take it and drove the shot to the right side of Alfery who saved the shot, but the sideline referee held up the flag and Alfery was called for leaving his goal lineearly.
United received another penalty kick and Brown stepped up and hit the ball high and over the crossbar to keep the game even at 1-1.
“That’s a tough thing. It’s always a difficult scenario where a player has to take two penalty kicks in a row. So maybe on my end, I should’ve made a change,” Rudland said. “Have somebody else take the second one, but Matt’s been fantastic for us all year and we definitely wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for his performances all year. We’ll chalk it up as an unfortunate set-piece and we’ll move on.”
In the 84th minute Fort Pitt had great goal scoring opportunities, but Bennett came up big with two huge saves when Brett found himself one-on-one with Bennett in the 18-yard box and Bennett saved the shot with his leg. Bennett got up and moved back in the middle of the goal and saved the rebound shot from Pitt forward, Jesse Scheirer.
After a little scare, United held up defensively for the last nine minutes of the second half and forced the game into overtime.
Both teams had a great opportunity to take the lead in the first overtime half, United had the first opportunity when midfielder, Boyzzz Khumalo, hit a hard shot from 25 yards out that just went wide of the upper righthand corner of the goal in the 97th minute.
Fort Pitt’s goal scoring chance came in the 103rd minute off a corner kick in which Pitt defender, Nick DiSomma, flicked the crossed ball towards the back post, which beat Bennett, but was cleared off the line by United forward, Gabe Mateo.
“It was a corner and the guy flicked it, and I just got a fingertip on it and Gabe did his job,” Bennett said. “He stays on the post and he took a step and blocked it and cleared it out. It got a little piece of my hand when he cleared it out, but I don’t care because he got it out one way or the other.”
There wasn’twas not another scare for United as the first overtime came to a close and in the second overtime the ball finally found the back of the net.
In the 111th minute, United forward, Julian Myers, dribbled down the right side of the Fort Pitt half and crossed a ball in that floated toward the middle of the 18-yard box where the ball bounced and Mateo ran to it from the top of the box.
Mateo settled the ball, took two touches and struck the ball into the left side of the goal to give United a 2-1 lead.
“It felt great. I wanted to hit it one-time, but it was coming out a little fast and bouncing, so I figured just get a little good touch, and I happened to just cut, and I looked up and I just slipped it in and it went right in,” Mateo said.
Fort Pitt kept the pressure on by earning a few more corners at the end of the second overtime, but could not convert and in the 123rd minute, the whistle blew and the fans and players went celebrated.
“Just an electric environment. Being at home this year has just been fantastic and today was basically a combination of a lot of work,” Rudland said. “Just a great effort by the guys and a great turnout from the crowd, they were fantastic. They basically got us through the game and just a fun day here for Lansing United.”
Lansing United will play the New York Red Bulls U-23 in the NPSL National Semifinal on Sunday at 7 p.m. in Hannover, N.J.
The game will be live-streamed by the NPSL.
Brooks Laimbeer is the host of Corner Kick for Impact Sports.
Photo: Lansing United