St. Croix Legends are Off the Blocks in USL2

May 27, 2022

It was a highly anticipated first Twin Cities Derby of the season between the St. Croix Legends and Minneapolis City, and the game did not disappoint.

Saturday evening’s game at Stillwater High School was a hotly contested back and forth affair that saw sure goals stopped in their tracks by the brick walls that were Wesley Sanders and Martin Sanchez (Goalkeepers of St. Croix and Minneapolis City respectively).

Within the first 5 minutes, St. Croix had sent forward Telvin Vah on two long runs trying to connect passes behind the City back four, both sides had committed multiple fouls, and cries for a Crow penalty kick were heard all the way on the Wisconsin side of the river when Minneapolis winger Zach Susee made his first trip inside of the Legends 18-yard box.

And it didn’t let up from there.

In the 10th minute the Legends were treated to their first yellow card of the game, one of five handed out to St. Croix, when Eli Goldman, the Crows leading goal scorer, was played into the box by Susee, and chopped down by St. Croix Center back Thierno Gueye.

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This was just the first of many chances for Minneapolis City, but St. Croix proved that they were up to the challenge early and often.

Every time that City managed to string together a couple of passes and make a run down the field, one of Gueye, Jared Hecht, Otis Anderson, or Kolton Praeter were there to send them right back where they came from.

St. Croix’s first big offensive chance came in the 28th minute when Vah, who had been terrorizing City’s back line as often as he could, was fed a ball right into the heart of the Minneapolis box. Unfortunately for him, a City defender came and took the ball right off his foot as he was just beginning his shooting motion. St. Croix would have to wait for their first goal.

From there, Susee continued his one man rage against the Legends’ back-line, making a beeline into the box in the 36th minute and pinging the far post passed the outstretched arms of a diving Sanders before the ball could be cleared away by St. Croix.

Susee’s personal vendetta against Hecht and Co. didn’t stop there either, as he played Goldman through the Legends’ back-line in the 43rd minute, and the only thing keeping Goldman from powering home a go-ahead goal for Minneapolis City right before halftime was the ever tested, but never beaten gloves of Sanders.

0-0 at the half.

Jared Hecht and Ethan Anderson go up for a header in the 68th minute of the game. Photos courtesy of Andrew Weisbrod

The second half somehow got off to an even quicker start. By the 50th minute, only 5 minutes into the half, Prater managed to pick up his first yellow card of the game due to foul accumulation.

The Crows followed this up with two quick chances, Aidan O’Driscoll finding another of Goldman’s brilliant runs in the 52nd minute (his shot ended up wide of goal), and Herbert Endeley getting in on the action with his own run into the box in the 55th (the ball picked off of his feet by the Legends’ back-line and played over for a corner kick).

As St. Croix seemed to be falling behind to an energized Minneapolis team, Coach Casey Holm made his first changes of the game, bringing on Owen Johnson, Kobby Owu, and Stuart Sain:

“Yeah we made some adjustments…we tried to play more outside,” said Holm. “We tried to get some more channels opened up… it unlocked some things for us definitely and obviously we nicked a goal.”

And nick a goal they did, because not three minutes later, in the 68th minute, Owu fired the Legends ahead when Hecht (getting in on the offensive side too? What can’t this kid do?) passed a free kick into his path and he headed it across the goalkeepers face and gently nestled the ball into the far corner of the goal.

However, it wasn’t smooth sailing for St. Croix from there. Kolton Prater was shown his second yellow of the game in the 74th minute, and the Legends were forced to face Minneapolis’ formidable attack with only 10 men for the rest of the game.

Jack Gleckler took the place of Vah for St. Croix, and the race against the clock was on.

City found their first chance against the short-handed Legends in the 77th minute, when Aiden Cavanaugh collected a free ball inside of St. Croix’s box, but he, like the rest of his teammates this evening, was no match for the shot-stopping ability of Sanders.

St. Croix even managed to turn in a couple of attacks of their own, with Sain sending in a testing cross, and Owu later making a remarkable individual run to put a shot on target.

It was Sanders to the rescue again in the 88th minute with another save in a 1v1 situation (that’s three for those of you counting at home).

Refusing to admit their defeat, the Crows managed to win a corner kick in the 90th minute. Lionel Vang (of U.S. Open Cup “Vangers Only” fame) sent in a beauty of a cross but Minneapolis could only find the post again, mere inches away from tying the game.

In the end, it wasn’t to be. St. Croix was more than a match for Minneapolis. They had won their first game of the season, and the first of their USL2 tenure.

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In a way, this game was everything St. Croix has been building towards, and Coach Holm was feeling it.

“It’s incredible [to win] in front of everyone especially being the whole Minnesota border? Twin Cities Derby? Perfect, we’ll roll with that. I feel great, I mean it’s nice to get that monkey off your back and finally get three points.”

Defender Jared Hecht was also rightfully proud of what his team accomplished.

“A lot of us, y’know, we’re a young team, we’re just getting into it, so getting a big one like that, it feels really good… Getting that red card in the second half made that hard in an already hard game, but y’know we persevered and showed a lot of grit in this young team.”

If tonight’s match was any indication of the direction St. Croix is going, I only have one prediction for the rest of their season, and I don’t even need my own words to get the point across. Hecht said it perfectly.

“We take pride in our defense so we really try to hold teams to zero goals and we did that today, and so another shutout for St. Croix.”

Another shut out indeed, and a silent promise of many, many more to come.

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