Mon. Dec 4th, 2023

Image: USL League Two Logo

The final days of the USL League Two season have come to a close, and there were exciting games for both Minneapolis City SC, who had Minnesota Super Cup qualification on the line heading into their matchup with RKC Third Coast, and St. Croix, who had the chance to finish as high as third place, two higher than last season, in the Deep North Division depending on how various results turned out after their final games.

St. Croix Legends 2-2 RKC Third Coast

St. Croix came into their season finale flying high, having just handed in-state rival Rochester FC a 3-0 beatdown less than a week earlier. Unfortunately, RKC Third Coast was equally as impressive in the run-up, perhaps even more so, being on a three-game win streak, and putting up fifteen goals in the process. They also only needed one point from their final two games in order to clinch a playoff birth in their first season of USL2 action, so the Legends had a highly motivated, and highly talented team on their hands.

To no one’s surprise, such a high stakes game found itself off to a rather strong start, with the first yellow card of the game being handed out before either team even had a solid chance on goal. A whole four minutes into the game, Marcos Calderon Jimenez chopped down Bernard Assibey Rhule to stop his break away chance, earning himself a card in the process. To be fair, the first chance of the game didn’t take much longer to come, with Jack Morris stopping a rocket of a shot from RKC’s Ethan Hoard. It was just as short of an amount of time to get to the first goal of the game. Aidan Hillis attempted a pass back to Isaac Eckroth, but it was deflected by Abdu Regassa allowing Hoard to charge onto the loose ball, dribbling Eckroth, and dropping it back off to Regassa who’s shot was deflected into the path of Malte Kaiser who made a brilliant backdoor run to notch the opening goal of the match.

After getting the first one early, RKC seemed determined to go up two goals over St. Croix, dominating possession and throwing wave after wave at the Minnesota side, who couldn’t even get out of their own half of the field save for a couple of counterattacks spearheaded by the fleet-footed Nathan Donovan. One such moment saw him racing down the right side, simply outpacing his defender before holding the ball up long enough for Matthew Gibbons to catch up enough for the cutback shot, testing Chandler Hallwood, but not enough to beat him.

The second half saw RKC Third Coast double their lead as Kaiser found Nicholas Cenek at the top of the box. Cenek drew in the St. Croix defender before laying it off to Hoard for an easy finish into the bottom right corner of the goal. Assibey Rhule wasn’t having any of that though, as immediately off of the restart he took the ball up the sideline and ripped a beauty of the shot as a second defender closed in on him to cut RKC’s lead back down to one. He even took it a step further in the 61st minute, as Morris booted a free kick sixty yards downfield, saw the ball flicked onto an onrushing Assibey Rhule. He pressured the ball off of the RKC defender, cut it back past a second defender and he curled the ball into the bottom right corner to equalize the game for the Legends.

There were a few nervy moments, Ethan Hoard tried a spectacular bicycle kick, played David Cox in on a beautiful one-two that beat Jack Morris but only found the post, and drew a foul late into stoppage time just outside of the box. Morris clattered into the onrushing Hoard, earning himself a yellow card. Zyan de Andrade stepped up to take the kick, and rifled into on target, but Morris was there to clean up his mess and provide St. Croix with one last point in their final USL2 regular season game. But it was RKC Third Coast who were the true winners on the night, clinching a playoff birth in their first ever USL2 season thanks to goals from Kaiser and Hoard.

You can watch the whole game on the St. Croix Soccer Club Youtube page here:

Minneapolis City 1-3 RKC Third Coast

Minneapolis City also had the pleasure of facing off with RKC Third Coast for their final game of the season, and RKC had already booked their spot in the playoffs thanks to their 2-2 draw against St. Croix Legends just three days earlier. However, Minneapolis and Rochester were fighting for something else, the final USL2 spot for the Minnesota Super Cup. St. Croix had already booked their spot, and Rochester FC had the final slot heading into the final matchday, two points ahead of the Crows in the standings, meaning Minneapolis needed a win to have their USL2 team go through (they had qualified their Futures’ team through the UPSL. If both qualified, the USL2 team would take the entrance and the UPSL entrance would go to the Minnesota team with the next highest points total, Vlora FC).

Luckily for the traveling Citizens, Minneapolis City staked their claim in the game early, with Shea Bechtel heading home a beautiful cross from Dennis Mensah Jr. to give them the lead only three minutes into the game. After that, it was up to the debutant to keep his team in the lead with Gabe Kuffel being called on to make multiple saves as the Crows weathered RKC’s onslaught due to their inability to take control of the game after their early goal. But Kuffel stood strong and did what he was asked to do, and Minneapolis City were able to weather the storm. The Crows managed to put together a couple of strong counterattacks, nearly taking advantage of their lack of possession to put themselves up 2-0. The game came to an abrupt halt when one of the RKC players went for a volley and instead of finding the ball, caught Griffin Gyurci in the neck, earning himself a yellow card, and Gyurci a ton of respect as he managed to walk it off and continue playing.

Unfortunately for Minneapolis, RKC Third Coast found their equalizer just after the restart, rather unluckily too, as the ball was played into the box by former City player Abdu Regassa before bouncing around and finally being sent home to bring the game level 1-1. RKC wasted no time turning the newfound scoreline from a tied one into a winning one, with Ethan Hoard driving at Bechtel before cutting it back and loosing a lightning strike past Kuffel for a 2-1 lead at the stroke of halftime.

RKC proceeded to finish the job off just on the other side of halftime, this time by Zyan de Andrade, as their corner was only partially cleared by the Crows with a dummied through ball making its way to de Andrade to put away for the final score of the evening. Not that there wasn’t plenty of other opportunities, but both Kuffel and Chandler Hallwood were on top of their games in the second half, stepping up to make huge one-on-one saves, and snuffing out chance after chance before it could get too dangerous.

Playoffs for Some, Super Cup for Others

With the USL2 season wrapped up, we’re able to take a look at the final standings and see the teams that have stood out enough to earn themselves more football: the top two teams getting to advance to the playoffs, and the top two Minnesota teams earning themselves births in the 2024 Minnesota Super Cup.

Thunder Bay Chill took the top spot notching an incredible twenty-nine points through twelve games, eight more than what they earned last year, to win the division in the first year since Des Moines Menace and Peoria City moved back to the Heartland Division. RKC Third Coast made easy work of their first USL2 season, finishing only four points back of the Canadian team with twenty-five points to secure the second and final playoff spot for the Deep North Division. The top half of the table was rounded out by FC Manitoba and St. Croix Legends, with eighteen and sixteen points respectively, and each improving by one spot from where they finished in the 2022 season. The bottom half of the table consisted of Rochester FC, Minneapolis City SC, and Bavarian United SC on fourteen, twelve, and five points. While Minneapolis City managed to not finish last in their division this season, they did still manage to only tie their standings from last year, finishing sixth in the Deep North for the second year in a tow.

By finishing above Minneapolis City, St. Croix and Rochester have earned the chance to participate in the 2024 Minnesota Super Cup as the state’s representatives from USL2.

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