By Harold C. Ford
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United States League Two Central Conference Quarterfinals
Friday, July 22, 2022; 4 and 7 p.m.; Atwood Stadium, Flint
Chicago FC United vs. Peoria City, 4 p.m.
Flint City Bucks vs. South Bend Lions, 7 p.m.
General admission tickets: $10 for children; $15 for adults
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The Flint City Bucks football club (soccer team) powered a path into the United States League Two (USL2) postseason playoffs with a resounding 6-0 win over the Grand Rapids-based Midwest United team July 16 at Flint’s Atwood Stadium.
For American footballers, a 6-0 soccer score is the equivalent of a convincing 42-0 beatdown on the gridiron.
The Bucks are one of eight teams in the USL2’s Central Conference that will initiate the league’s playoffs July 22. A total of 32 USL2 teams in four conferences start the playoffs on the same day. The goal is to reach the USL2 championship match on Aug. 6.
The Bucks face the South Bend Lions at 7 p.m. at Flint’s Atwood Stadium, 701 University Ave. The 7 p.m. contest is preceded by another quarterfinal match featuring Chicago FC United and Peoria City at 4 p.m.
Flint finished second in the six-team Great Lakes Division with an 8-3-3 record (wins, losses, ties) and 19 points. (A win earns two points, a tie one point, and no points for a loss.) The first-place regular-season finisher was Kalamazoo FC with an 8-2-4 record and 20 points.
The 6-0 win over Midwest United was an unusual lopsided margin in the sport of soccer. All season long the Bucks have scored at less than a two-goals-per-game rate of 1.94. Two previous wins over Midwest United were by counts of 3-0 and 1-0.
The Bucks scored soon and often: at six minutes into the contest (goal by Emeka Eneli from Amadou Cisse); at 11 minutes (Jelldrik Dallman from Brajdi Cekrezi); at 34 minutes (Dallman from Cekrezi again); and at 42 minutes (Cekrezi from Eugene Quaynor).
The Buck’s defense was stifling in the first half. The first two shots on goal — with the clock running — by Midwest came at stoppage (extra) time at the end of the first half. One blistering shot by a Midwest player was turned away on a brilliant save by an outstretched Isaac Walker, Flint’s goalkeeper.
The first half of the match was, perhaps, the very best logged by the Flint side (team) during the 2022 season on both the offensive and defensive sides of the pitch (field).
In the second half, Flint added two more scores: at 58 minutes on a set-piece kick by Harvey Slade, unassisted, launched over the defensive wall and beyond the outstretched arms of the Midwest United goalkeeper into the topside corner of the net. Derrick Broche added the sixth goal to Flint’s total at 68 minutes on an assist from Matt Fearnley.
Stalwart defense, primed offense prep Flint for 2022 playoffs
After nine matches into a 14-match 2022 regular-season, the Bucks’ playoff chances seemed uncertain. In late June, their record was a middling four wins, two losses, and three ties. Making the playoffs was a possibility, not a certainty. The Bucks offense was scoring at a pace of 1.7 goals per match while the defense was stellar, allowing less than one goal per match.
In their final five regular-season matches, the Bucks outscored their opponents 16 goals to six. The offense improved to a rate of 3.2 goals each match while the defense continued to lock down opponents, limiting them to about one goal per match.
Dallman was far and away the offensive points leader for Flint with 11 goals, or 22 points (two points for each goal, one point for each assist). Three other players pitched in with seven points: Slade (three goals, one assist); Cisse (two goals, three assists); and Cekrezi (two goals, three assists).
Flint’s defense was buoyed by something all season that cannot be taught — speed. All season long, Flint’s back line was patrolled by capable players that stuffed opponents’ offensive thrusts and moved the ball back up field to their midfielders and forwards.
In an interview with East Village Magazine, Bucks’ coach Andrew “Andy” Wagstaff lauded his defense. “We’ve got some of the best defenders in the country,” said Wagstaff. “There is absolutely zero doubt in my mind.”
Wagstaff cited the defensive play of Hugo Bacharach, Abdel Kuku, and Jannik Videbaek.
One of Flint’s goalkeepers, the aforementioned Isaac Walker, is touted as one of USL2’s “top 50 prospects” to move on to a higher professional level.
A partial primer for the soccer-challenged
For the soccer-challenged who might be learning the sport, here is a primer of some basic soccer terms:
- It’s “football” (“futbol” in Spanish) for the rest of the planet outside the U.S., not “soccer;”
- Eleven players per side; one is a goalie, the only player that can touch the ball with hands or arms inside the penalty area;
- Penalty area: a rectangular area around each goal in which the goalie is the only person that can use his/her hands; defensive penalties in this area result in a penalty kick from short range;
- Two 45-minute halves;
- Stoppage or added time: time added to the 45-minute halves due to penalties, injuries, or timeouts; announced during the 45th minute;
- FC: football club;
- Pitch: playing field;
- Side: team;
- Match: game;
- Yellow card: a lesser penalty; offending player remains on the pitch but his side gives up the ball;
- Red card: a more serious penalty; offending player is ejected from the match; his/her side gives up the ball and plays shorthanded;
- Header: hitting the ball with the head; legal in this sport;
- Tackle: an attempt, often sliding, by one player to take possession of the ball from another player;
- Offside: ball must get past the last defending player before any offensive player does; otherwise, offensive team is offside and gives up possession of the ball.
A chance to meet the Bucks
On Tuesday, July 26 at downtown Flint’s Halo Burger restaurant, members of the Flint City Bucks will meet and greet fans, sign autographs and distribute free tickets. The event lasts for two hours from 12 noon. to 2 p.m.
EVM Sports reporter Harold C. Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.