AFC Ann Arbor advanced to the NPSL Regional Championship Match Friday evening following a 1-0 victory over Dayton Dynamo FC. Ann Arbor dominated throughout, but left it late to secure progress to the Regional Championship match, with James Vaughan scoring from a free kick in the 92nd minute.
The Mighty Oak dictated the tempo from the start, and created several chances in the first half. Alec Lasinski caused problems throughout, while Kaleb Jackson had the best opportunity to give Ann Arbor the lead.
In the 32nd minute, the ball fell to Kaleb’s feet on the top of the 6-yard box. He settled comfortably, turned and fired an effort on target, which was miraculously kept out by the Dynamo stopper to keep it scoreless. It remained even at the half-time interval.
Dayton came out firing in the second half, coming closest from a corner kick in the 48th minute. It was a good cross, which found an un-marked Dayton player in the box. His effort flashed just inches wide of the far post.
AFC looked to have taken the lead on 52 minutes when defender Ben Thornton tucked the ball past the Dayton keeper, but the referee ruled that Ben was in an offside position.
From then on, it was AFC who controlled the game, brining on several substitutes to increase the energy in the side. Attacking options Jesse Muskwe and Kwesi ‘Jep’ Allen entered, while Chase Pagani joined at the back. In the end it was Jep who was taken down on the edge of the 18-yard box as the clock ticked past the 90 minute mark.
Up stepped Audi of Ann Arbor Man of the Match (and free kick specialist) James Vaughan. He took one look, stepped back, and curled the ball around the wall and inside the upright to give Ann Arbor a 1-0 lead with just seconds left to play.
Dayton instantly brought on more attacking options and threw everything forward to try and force extra-time, but The Mighty Oak held firm and closed out an impressive victory.
The result was AFC Ann Arbor’s first ever NPSL Playoff win in club history.
AFC Ann Arbor Head Coach Eric Rudland was delighted with the victory, and cited the sides’ mentality as crucial to staying in it late on.
“The second half there were waves where we weren’t great.” He said. “We found a way to get through that. We scored a goal, got it called back, and then to pull that [free kick] in the 89th minute […], I think speaks volumes to the groups mentality”
The Mighty Oak are delighted to have a first-ever NPSL playoff win in the bag and will be looking to keep that momentum going into the Regional Championship match.
“We’ve got our scouts here to take care of the Detroit vs. Duluth game for us and give us a plan. We can fill the guys in tomorrow when we meet. We’ll do some regeneration in the morning. We’ll have a team meal and take the bus up here. […] Hopefully those extra hours [between matches] play an advantage for us tomorrow,” said Coach Rudland.
AFC Ann Arbor will battle Detroit City FC for the third time this season, tomorrow night at Keyworth Stadium at 7:30PM for the NPSL's Midwest Region Championship.