USL PRO Game Recap: Dutch Lions Earn Bittersweet Point Against Crew
I cover the Dayton Dutch Lions FC for Reckless Challenge, but my relationship with the team goes well beyond that. I am a fanatic. I am emotionally invested. I usually try to separate my duties to cover the Dutch Lions for this publication from the initial gut reaction that I have as a fan. Today, though, I’m going to lead with both, because they are inextricably intertwined.
It feels good to be angry about Saturday night’s 4-4 draw at home against the Columbus Crew Reserves. You might be wondering how I could have arrived at such a dichotomy of sentiments. The explanation can be summarized in four words, expectations have been raised.
A season ago, it probably would have been more than satisfying to see Dayton battle through difficulties in the second half to find the equalizer minutes before the final whistle, especially if the opponent were the Columbus Crew. The Dutch Lions were a team that conceded late goals. They were a team that had limited expectations, and usually lived up to them.
This season, though, is different. The increase in the quality of play has been evident since the preseason. The roster has more depth in most positions. The players and staff have openly talked about reaching the playoffs for the first time in team history. Early successes on the field have made believers out of the fans. Expectations have been raised.
It was exciting to watch the Dutch Lions score four goals, but why did we give up four to the opposition? It was inspiring that they didn’t yield to the mountain of momentum that the Crew had accumulated in the second half, but why was Columbus allowed to seize control of the game? It was definitely better to walk off the pitch with one point than zero, but why didn’t we get three? These questions might not have been asked last year, but they are painfully obvious now. Expectations have been raised.
Thus, Dutch Lions fans walked away from Beavercreek High School’s stadium last night with their hearts and minds jumbled enough to keep a team of mental health experts employed for months. We traipsed to the parking lot knowing that we left two points on the pitch, but there’s something to be said for finally having a team from whom we can realistically expect more. In fact, it warms the cockles of my heart to root for team that is expected to perform well on a consistent basis.
Summary of Play
The first half was largely a back-and-forth affair in terms of the action on the field and, consequently, the action on the scoreboard. It became obvious early on that both defenses were going to struggle with the speed and athleticism of the opposition’s front lines.
Columbus opened the scoring in the sixth minute. Ryan Finley headed the ball past a frozen Matt Williams off a cross from Kyle Hyland.
Dayton leveled the score at 1-1 in the 15th minute. Eli Garner used his pace to advance the ball up the side, and then he found Gibson Bardsley with a cross. Bardsley was able to touch ball by Crew keeper Matt Lampson.
The referee whistled a handball against the Crew inside the box in the 27th minute. Dutch Lions caption Joel DeLass stepped up to convert, giving the Dutch Lions a 2-1 lead.
The Crew got the equalizer in the 36th minute off the foot of Konrad Warzycha. Warzycha netted a nifty free kick opportunity from outside the 18.
Dayton was awarded its second penalty kick of the first half in stoppage time. This time the call came against Finley for pushing his mark. DeLass was once again called to deliver, which he did, providing a 3-2 lead for the Dutch Lions heading into the locker room.
In the second half, the Crew seized momentum early and held onto it for the majority of the second 45 minutes. Dayton left enormous space in the midfield for the Crew attack to operate, which resulted in a lot of one-on-one opportunities for Columbus’ front line. The Crew forwards utilized their speed to take advantage of these chances, and the Dutch Lions played most of the second half on their heels.
Finley leveled the matched at 3-3 in the early going of the second half. He sent a loping shot toward the near post that was saved by Williams. Williams, though, was unable to corral the ball, and the rebound came right back to Finley. Determined not miss a second chance, Finley buried his next shot into a virtually undefended net.
Columbus took the lead in the 68th minute. A diagonal cross from Ben Speas was finished by Bernardo Anor.
It didn’t appear that Dayton would be able to find an answer. The Dutch Lions were too busy trying to desperately stop the relentless Crew attack to generate much offense of their own in the second half. An inordinate number of professional/tactical fouls by Dayton didn’t even do much to impede Columbus’ progression toward the goal.
The answer finally did come in the 89th minute. A Dutch Lions corner kick found the turf inside a congested box. The ball made its way from Greg Preciado to Shane Smith, who apparently used his nose to push the ball across the line. The match ended a 4-4 draw.
This was a tough night for the Dutch Lions’ defense, but I’m not willing to put the entire weight of the letdown onto the shoulders of the back line. They were left hanging out to dry by their teammates on several occasions, especially in the second half. I spoke with Dayton head coach Patrick Bal after the match, and he is in agreement. He went so far as to say that the team didn’t even appear to try executing the strategy that he had implemented in the locker room at half time. Hopefully, this is a problem that Bal will be able to fix.
One problem that won’t be fixed in the near future is the lack of size on the roster. The disparity in stature between Dayton and other teams becomes apparent on aerial crosses, corner kicks, and free kicks. Opponents have continually exploited this apparent weakness, and they will continue to do so.
On a positive note, Dayton continues to display heart and maturity. Last year’s squad wouldn’t have earned a point after the way the team performed over most of the second half. This year’s team never stops fighting, and finds ways to keep themselves in games.
Other News and Notes
Gibson Bardsley scored his 5th goal of the season, which leads the team and is among the league leaders. His goal count now matches that of his yellow cards, which also lead the team. Consequently, Bardsley will be suspended for next Sunday’s match against VSI Tampa Bay.
Taylor Lord, defender, came off the field in the second half with an injury to his hamstring. I spoke with Lord after the match. The injury actually occurred in the first half, but he tried unsuccessfully to finish the game. There’s no official word on how much time, if any, Lord will miss. If I were a betting man, I wager that he will not be in action against Tampa Bay.
The Dutch Lions are unbeaten in the last five contests that have counted in the USL PRO standings with two wins and three draws.
A crowd of 1,621 was on hand to witness the game between intrastate sides. This is the largest crowd to ever witness a home game for the Dutch Lions, and they got to see a pretty good show. A lot of goals were scored, and late drama added to the excitement. Let’s hope that a lot of these fans return for future games.