Med City celebrate their 2023 title win. Photo courtesy of Med City.
Saturday, July 15, saw Duluth FC host Med City FC at Public Schools Stadium in the first-ever NPSL North Championship game. The night promised history, something in brought in spades, along with a far bit of tension, celebrations, surprise, and controversy.
The two teams played 45 minutes of scoreless soccer to start the night off, but there was plenty to think about before the opener finally arrived. Duluth played in their away-white kits due to Med City only bringing their home blue and green kits, perhaps an early sign of gamesmanship.
Upon the start of the actual game, it was Med City that looked ready to score. Tristan Jumeau even had a shot bounce off the post after getting past Duluth goalkeeper Ezekiel Foltz. Duluth were dealt an early blow after center back Santiago Erazo went off injured, replaced by Dylan Zavatini in the 20th minute.
As unfortunate as it is to say, the storyline of Saturday night’s play was in fact center referee Brian Wood. In a 12 minute span from the 25th to the 37th, five yellow cards were given out, including four for Duluth. These early yellows, which included one for Zavatini after 15 minutes on the pitch, set up later controversy in the second half. They also seemed to leave Duluth’s players and coaches visibly baffled at times.
The match’s ever growing dam finally broke in extra time when Felipe Santos got on the end of a cross from Josh Bellamy to the far post, slotting home a BlueGreens goal after a dramatic improvement in Duluth’s attacking form to make it 1-0 going into the halftime break, a mild scoreline despite a hectic first half.
From the 60th minute to the 78th minute, Wood gave another four yellow cards to Duluth FC. The first was to Andres Solares, which would prove important later, but the second was given to Dylan Zavatini after a contest in the air to win a header. His second yellow, Zavatini was the first player to be sent off on the day and Duluth were left with 10 men on the pitch. The red card was responded to be strong disagreement from the Duluth sideline and stands. A tackle into the back of both of Duluth midfielder Rory Doyle’s ankles soon after, which resulted in a yellow card, only turned the tension up even higher.
Down a man, the game changed for both Duluth and Med City. The Mayhem made the most of the man advantage and reignited the attacking momentum they started the game with, eventually earning a penalty kick following a slide tackle in the box from Solares. Tristan Jumeau’s penalty was at first saved by goalkeeper Ezekiel Foltz, but the ball then deflected from the goalkeeper’s hands and rolled into the net to make it 1-1.
With the momentum truly shifted, Duluth held on to go into added extra time (AET), but first saw another player, now midfielder Andres Solares, sent with with his second yellow of the game in the 87th minute. Tom Akinola came on in the 81st minute and received a first yellow in the 90th minute, while Paul Bobai came on in the 89th minute and received a yellow card five minutes later.
AET proved to be as dramatic as you’d expect as both sides looked to make the most of the challenge ahead. Duluth were forced to bunker in and be clever with their attempts to play out and attack, while Med City looked for just the right point to strike at the BlueGreens nine men.
There would be a winner, but not without some dramatic moments. Two more red cards were shown, one to Med City Head Coach Neil Cassidy and Duluth FC’s Colin O’Mahony, who earned a second yellow in the later minutes of AET as the game continued to heat up.
It was Ricardo Schroeder who eventually found the winner for Med City, slotting home a low crossed ball following a well-worked counter by the Mayhem after a brief attack from Duluth. His goal, scored in the 124th minute after a large amount of time was added, secured the win. It also provided a thank you to Med City’s defense, who had themselves put in quite a shift to prevent Duluth from scoring on a handful of set pieces.
Anything I’ve ever written on this website has had been at least a little editorial, so I don’t feel the need to filter the following out for our readers. I think both of the following statements can be true, I do not feel they have to be contradictory.
This win was a massive achievement Med City and congratulations are in order. It’s a result that allows them to continue to build a legacy in the 2020’s that is exciting for the development of the game in the city of Rochester and southern Minnesota as a whole. Med City made the most of the format change this season and their efforts, including their win against the 2nd seed Dakota Fusion midweek, have seen them lead a really talented group to two titles. It’s impossible to not see how that’s cool from a neutral place.
It also is unfortunate we didn’t get to see this Med City team actually show that legacy-building in a convincing win against an outstanding Duluth team. In the last two years, Duluth has two wins and two draws against the Mayhem, no regulation time losses. Med City looked good in the opening of Saturday’s game. We cannot know what craziness might have happened 11v11 in the last 30 minutes of this final. Instead, Duluth lead at halftime and Med City’s comeback was eventually characterized by red cards for the BlueGreens and a penalty. This BlueGreens team was undefeated in 13 games. The fact that streak was broken in this context has left some puzzled. It’s a simmering conclusion to a blazing season, and to this writer, personally, it was unfortunate.
Med City must now travel to play in the regional playoffs. As of writing, the details of that tournament aren’t clear, but it should be played July 21 and 22. The Mayhem have a chance to prove some of the thoughts surrounding their North title win wrong and put together a sensational underdog run against the Midwest’s best as they look to win their first ever NPSL regional championship. I think many around the NPSL North will be rooting for the Mayhem to become the first North team to win the title since 2018. I also think very few of that crowd will be from Duluth. I’ll let you, the reader, decide where you fall in the midst of all of that.
Correction Note: After this game, multiple people told Dominic Bisogno that Neil Cassidy’s red card had to do with an altercation with a ballboy. That was reflected in this story. Since publication, it has been clarified by all parties that Cassidy’s red card was the result of an interaction with a Duluth player, not a ballboy or any other department of club staff. We apologize for the misunderstanding and appreciate Neil Cassidy’s hospitality in addressing the mistake.