Sunday, July 14, 2024
Sunday, July 14, 2024

FMFC 1-1 UW: Another “Battle” Ends In Draw

A pleasant Sunday salutation, everyone…Grant here. I’m filling in for Andrew today as he and his lovely bride are continuing to enjoy some much needed and deserved R&R in the beautiful climes of Belize. So while he’s busy sipping cocktails, going snorkeling, and making friends with doggos, I was able to take in the match between Forward Madison FC and the University of Wisconsin last night. Fans in attendance were treated to a beautiful, sun-splashed evening with temperatures just about perfect, hovering around the mid-70s. This was a much appreciated deviation from the previous three matches at Breese Stevens Field, which consisted of driving rainstorms and sub-40 degree temps. Thus, despite The Flock not having an official presence and the crowd being more muted than usual, the beautiful evening led to a fairly decent crowd to come out to a friendly match which has been dubbed, “The Battle for Madison.” 

The Battle for Madison is always going to be a tricky match for an outfit like FMFC and last night would prove to be no different. These matches are challenging because while yes, it’s true that you’re playing a team of amateurs, it’s also a team composed of division 1 level talent. They almost always come in hungry, ready to prove their mettle against a team of professionals, and with a new coach, Neil Jones, at the helm, making an impression is even more of an imperative for UW’s squad. Some of these guys for UW will go on to play for professional squads after their eligibility has run out, as evidenced by trialist Kyle McCurley getting a start for FMFC last night. McCurley played two years at UW (2020-2021) as a grad transfer, and was provided an opportunity to run out against his old squad last night, getting slotted in a center midfielder role next to fellow Badger alum and captain, Drew Conner. A former star for UW, having spent time with the Chicago Fire and Indy Eleven, it was Conner’s first start of the year for FMFC after spending last year with Chicago House. Seeing how he’s been nursing a calf injury since the preseason, it was great to see him get some first-team minutes and get the armband in the process. Reason being, with murkiness still surrounding the severity of the injury on Wednesday to Andrew Wheeler-Ominu, Conner may be called upon to provide some much needed leadership and poise in the matches ahead. 

FMFC employed a 3-4-3 formation last night, with backup keeper, Parker Smith getting his first start for the ‘Gos. He wears #0 which I thought was odd, but when your entire social media presence is devoted to NFTs, who am I to judge? Anyway, the back line was made up of Cyrus Rad, another former Badger, Carl Schneider, and Alvin Jones, who also was making his first start for FMFC. The four in the midfield would be Justin Sukow and Heath Martin out wide, with the aforementioned Conner and McCurley in the middle. Up front was another trialist, Osvaldo Ramirez, who was flanked by Nazeem Bartman and Rojay Smith. Ramirez, who most recently spent time with the Canadian Premier League’s York United, also has some connections to Wisconsin, being born in Green Bay and graduating from West DePere HS. 

GAME ACTION

When the boys and I at NDZ interviewed Conner and Schneider this week, Drew made a point of saying that the club knew UW would go for it and not sit back, which would prove to be right on the money. From the opening kick, UW employed a high press, which also was countered by FMFC employing the same approach in kind. Therefore, the first 8 minutes of action was fairly back and forth, with each team trying to establish possession and a flow, albeit in a chaotic manner. The first opportunity of the night fell to the Badgers, when in the 8th minute, midfielder Jack Finnegan sent a cross in from the left wing which went just wide of an attacker on the far post. We’ll come back to Finnegan throughout this wrapup as the sophomore was an absolute TERROR to the FMFC defense all evening long. 

In the 15th minute, FMFC would get their first opportunity, coming via a corner kick by Jones, who sent in a serviceable cross into the near left post which was tapped just wide by Sukow. Another chance would come in the 20th minute when Rojay Smith whipped a beautiful cross in from the right side which found Ramirez at the spot. Ramirez was able to gather and fire off a shot, but it was right at UW keeper, Carter Abbott. FMFC would get a third chance in the 29th minute, again coming off a Jones corner kick. Jones’s corner bounced around in the air before landing to Conner, near the top of the box. Conner was able to hammer a shot through the crowded defense, but it was wide left. 

The Badgers would take advantage of these missed opportunities, as their high press started to force FMFC into some mistakes which UW was only too ready to capitalize on. The first would come in the 31st minute as Finnegan would again show his skill by cutting inside the FMFC defense and attacking the left flank. Finnegan was able to get a shot away which was parried by Smith, who then gathered himself quickly to make a tremendous 2nd save on the rebound by UW’s Michael Wampler. Finnegan, however, would continue his stellar performance in the 42nd minute, with a piece of individual brilliance to give the young Badgers the lead. After some back and forth play around midfield, Finnegan gained possession near the left sideline. From there, he took off on a 30 yard run where he was able to dribble past Sukow, then put a move on McCurley, before stopping and firing a beauty of a curler into the upper 90 of the far right post. It was one of those goals that no matter what team it is, when it happens, you can’t help but take pause and utter an amaze-filled, “DAMN.” What’s more…this wasn’t the end of Finnegan laying an assault on FMFC’s defense. 

Taking a 1-0 deficit into the 2nd half, FMFC head coach Matt Glaeser decided to shake things up, making SEVEN changes to the starting lineup, including bringing in the 3rd trialist to see action, midfielder Taylor Pill. The changes would prove to be fortuitous as in the 50th minute, one of the FMFC substitutes would find the equalizer. After the ball was being bandied about in the FMFC final third, substitute Abdou Mbacke Thiam found the ball on his feet near the top of the box. From there, with his back to the goal, Thiam did a spectacular job of keeping the UW defender on his back before making a beautiful turn to free himself and create a one-on-one opportunity with UW’s Abbott. Thiam would finish the job, coolly slotting home a shot into the bottom right corner to earn himself his first tally for ‘Gos and bring the match back to level terms. A true poacher’s goal of being in the right place at the right time, it was also the kind of goal that can be huge for a player’s confidence. Seeing how scoring has been an issue for FMFC since their inception and that Thiam is trying to establish himself at a new club, one can only hope this will be the case for the Flamingos’ newest forward. 

FMFC and their new-look squad would continue to take charge of the match from there as they would dominate possession for the next 25 minutes or so. During this time, substitute Mikey Maldonado would show some nice flashes of footwork at the right midfielder role, exhibiting more of the versatility that has made him so invaluable during the early parts of this year’s campaign. In the 73rd minute, another player for FMFC would make his debut as defender Mele Temguia would come in to replace Rad at the left back position. UW’s frustration at the lack of possession would almost have them snake-bitten as in the 77th minute, substitute Audi Jepson found himself taken down in the box to no avail. From my vantage point in the press box, it looked like it was a penalty, but seeing that Jepson and the squad did not protest too much, UW could just continue play and consider themselves lucky to have dodged a potential bullet. 

However, three minutes later, in the 80th minute, Finnegan would, yet again, unleash one more instance of brilliance to threaten the FMFC defense. Receiving the ball in stride on the left wing, he made a slick side feint move to get past Eric Leonard and put him in a threatening position on goal. It was only for Maldonado hustling back from midfield and committing a professional foul (a receiving a yellow card) that stopped Finnegan from being in a dangerous position to earning a brace. Finnegan was clearly the Man of Match as his blistering runs and skill on the ball proved difficult to handle all night long. So much so, he had to change jerseys at half time, as his original one was torn at the neck when he was grabbed by an FMFC player as he ran past. Only a sophomore at UW, one has to think the future may be bright for the youngster from the Chicago area for this season and beyond. More than once last night, I found myself saying in my internal monologue, “Damn. This kid’s game is A LOT like Chris Mueller’s.” Seeing how Mueller was an All-American at UW, who’s now plying his trade for the Scottish Premier League club, Hibernian FC, Finnegan will be someone that I will keep an eye on with great interest. 

No kit…no problem. Image courtesy of UW Soccer

Temguia would announce his presence and show some of his high-level ability in the 86th minute when after gaining possession with solid standing tackle, was able to turn and send an absolute dime of a long ball to a sprinting Maldonado completely on the OTHER SIDE of the field. Maldonado was able to move the ball inside to Thiam, who once again, did a great job of holding the defender on his back, settling the ball, and making a move to free himself for an opportunity. This time, however, Thiam couldn’t convert, sending his blast just wide of the far left post. Still, though…the opportunities are coming and Thiam is doing a good job of creating them when he can. One has to believe that with some more game minutes, those opportunities will become more frequent and he’ll begin to start putting them away. 

The final opportunity would fall to FMFC in extra time. After a cross into the box from Thiam, Ramirez would find himself in space near the spot, but couldn’t settle the ball and it was cleared away by the Badgers defense. The referee blew his whistle shortly after bringing the match to a close and leaving “The Battle for Madison” in a 1-1 draw. While I’m sure the lads are going to be frustrated at not getting the three points, there were a lot of positives to draw off of before heading into Saturday’s match against Central Valley Fuego FC. 

The Flock faithful…pink and blue, forever true

The first being that this match gave Glaeser and his staff the opportunity to get some players those ever-so-important game minutes in a game that won’t impact the standings. Guys like Jones, Conner, and Temguia are all expected to have pretty significant roles this season, so getting them minutes and a chance to round into form is paramount. Furthermore, getting them game minutes with their new teammates and the opportunity to establish a flow is invaluable. Secondly, as we mentioned previously, FMFC knew this game was going to be tricky. They’re coming off a tough defeat against Minnesota United in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday and now have to play a team who would like nothing more than to get one over on their professional counterparts. FMFC played a solid game, handled possession for the most part, generated some great opportunities, and, most importantly, got out of the match with nobody getting hurt. Without the individual brilliance of UW’s Finnegan, the Flamingos more than likely win this game easily. That being said, getting a draw against a team you probably should beat never leaves a good taste in your mouth. One can only surmise that this bitter taste will provide some energy and motivation for the week as the lads prepare to take on Fuego FC next Saturday night at Breese. FMFC had some results land their way this weekend, so a win next Saturday night could potentially vault the lads from their current 9th position, all the way to 2nd. Either way, with the implications for the match and The Flock making their noisy, energetic return, next Saturday night is shaping up to be a cracker. 

See you there. 

Forward Forever and Up the ‘Gos

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