Even without playoffs on the horizon, Lansing United was fighting for something Sunday afternoon. Sending captain Matt Brown out on a good note was the only thing on the players’ minds while en route to a 3-0 victory over Erie Commodores FC.
Brown had announced earlier in the week on Facebook that he would be making his final appearance in the baby blue and white on Sunday, and he made sure it was a memorable one. Brown bagged a brace, and his two goals, along with one from Freddy Gomes, guaranteed that Brown’s exit was glorious.
“I had to control my emotions and make sure I brought a good performance for the Sons of Ransom (Lansing United’s supporters group) and the club just to remember,” Brown said.
With two goals in 64 minutes, Brown guided Lansing to victory. For a prolific striker and captain, his last game was a perfect sample of his time in Lansing and a reminder of how he led them to the Midwestern regional championship in 2014.
“Really happy for Matt (Brown). Obviously, he had some chances in the first half that didn’t go his way,” head coach/GM Eric Rudland said. “His response in the second half was great.
“He showed great perseverance to come out in the second half and took his chance well and he had another one he took well,” Rudland said. “It’s going to be hard to find players in the future that can carry the weight that he has for the club.”
Brown’s last performance started bereft of chances for the English striker. After an uneventful first 45 minutes, the match looked to be traveling toward an anticlimactic draw to close the season, and an unsatisfying sendoff for Brown.
Lansing came out of halftime reinvigorated however, playing with the efficiency and defensive potency of the season before, and the payoff was immediate.
Just two minutes into the second half, a set play opened the scoring floodgates. Brown got his head to a Ross Lindsay cross and gave Lansing United the go-ahead goal with a powerful diving header that the keeper could not reach.
Brown wasn’t done.
Four minutes later, Lindsay played a tantalizing through ball that sprung Esteban Russell in on goal. Russell had the option of taking an angled shot or playing the ball across to Brown, and he unselfishly chose the latter.
Russell’s centered pass was slow and allowed the keeper to cover his far side, but Brown demonstrated his equanimity and experience, and with a shot fake, sent the keeper to the ground. With the keeper out of the picture, he passed the ball into the net.
“As soon as the ball was travelling across the box, I was just thinking composure,” Brown said. “I knew the keeper was going to go, so that was it. I just had to have a touch and put it into the opposite corner.”
And while that was the last action for Brown, Lansing was not yet satisfied with their work.
In the 54th minute, Freddy Gomes joined in on the fun. From the left wing, 38 yards out, Gomes, a left back, unleashed a straight rocket toward the near upper 90. Surprised by the audacious effort, the keeper was still-footed as the net rustled and the crowd erupted.
“I’m right-footed, so I cut inside and then Ross (Lindsay) was right behind me and said, ‘Just take it,'” Gomes said. “So I just winded it and it just went in the perfect angle.
“It’s perfect to score on the last game. Of course, if it was for a playoff spot it would be way better.”
It was Gomes’ first goal for United and likely the best individual goal in Lansing’s season.
With the game in hand, Rudland allowed Brown to stride off the field and absorb the moment one last time. The substitution took place in the 64th minute, and Brown was replaced by Leo Melgar.
“That was my aim: finish on a high,” Brown said. “And that’s what we’ve done today. And it was nice to get the two goals as well.”
Melgar was eager to make an impression, and was just a few inches away from matching Brown’s brace. Hitting the post once in the 88th minute, he took the responsibility of leading the attack, and although Lansing would not score again, they remained a threat until the final whistle.
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The blow of no playoffs weighed heavily on United, but the players optimistically pointed to the positives.
“It’s complicated to finish like this. (The 3-0 win) really shows that we should’ve done better,” Gomes said. “Right now, kind of disappointed to finish like this, but we’ll be back next year.”
United’s first club legend, Brown will be missed. His departure leaves Lansing with more than a gap at striker; the Capital City outfit will have to find a new captain and leader.
“He’s kind of a natural captain, so we try to listen to him,” Gomes said. “And of course, on the field, he scores goals as well.”
Brown’s final game was an accurate sample of his time in Lansing, his sixth multi-goal game since United’s founding. In two seasons with United, he accumulated 17 goals, a team record, in 27 matches, the second-most in team history.
Next up for Brown is coaching. In February, he acquired his UEFA B coaching license and now plans to return to his native country of England in search of a coaching job.
Currently though, the 3-0 win against Erie belongs to Brown. His impact to the club was immeasurable but certainly appreciated.
The postgame unveiling of a banner bearing the words “Forever Our Captain” sums up the supporters’ love for him. The feeling was mutual.
“I’ve loved every minute playing for the club… It’s just like family,” Brown said. “I’ll never forget it.”