DKCU 1 Cedar Rapids Inferno 1
God it feels good to be back,, doesn't it? The American lower league season is so painfully short, and the off-season so painfully long, it feels like we have been waiting forever to gather once more within the NIU stadium.
The Inferno brought some Iowan heat with them, both on the field and in the weather. Off the pitch, the volunteer staff were as wonderful as ever. In the booth we had a couple of hiccups, but managed to come out the other side relatively unscathed. And on the pitch, the boys delivered a more cohesive and threatening performance than we have seen for some time. That said, as per Brien Martin's latest View From The Booth post, we are still very much a work in progress.
After the dry run of last week's scrimmage with NIU, this was the real deal, and the intensity on the pitch was self-evident. Cedar Rapids came to do battle, and whilst I would not call them dirty by any stretch, they definitely pushed the buttons of a number of DKCU players and staff. The officials didn't help matters, with niggles and infringements from both sides often going unpunished, whilst lesser transgressions all too often fell foul of a whistle or a flag.
Taking up a nominal 4-1-4-1 approach, DKCU gave a debut to Lukasz Solka up front, and his physical presence was a definite boon going forward. There were some issues linking up with team mates on occasion, but that was to be expected with so little time spent together. With Jimmy Matthew having left the club, much will be expected of the youngster, and on this showing, he is up for the task.
Behind him, Leo Lenth continues to impress with a bustling, energetic performance. His industry and tenaciousness (?) in the tackle must make him a terror to pay against, whilst his willingness to run off the ball and to chase a lost cause often provided a much needed outlet. So it was fitting that he opened the scoring on the 14th minute, finishing off a simple tap-in after good work down the right hand side. Rapids felt aggrieved that he had played the ball in an onside positon, and made their feelings very clear. And whilst I am not advocating for the constant haranguing of the referee that we witnessed on Saturday, as frustrating as the constant chipping away at the officials was, it displayed a certain street smartness that the DKCU boys could borrow a little from. Not that they don't know the offside rule!
Alongside Lenth, Carlos Gallardo and Antonio Reyes both had more imposing showings than I have seen before. The midfield looks a little lightweight on paper, but like one of those tiny dogs that awful people carry with them these days, they yap and they nip and they pester, and the opposition simply cannot settle.
At the back, the burgeoning partnership of McNamara and Toms proved fairly solid, if lacking in physical presence. Toms is deceptively good in the air, and seems to be growing in confidence in his own abilities on the floor. On the flanks, Smith and Fowler work tirelessly, and show no fear going forward. They, and indeed the whole team, would benefit from more composure on the ball, and a better final ball. But then which team wouldn't?
When the Inferno equalizer arrived, I don't think anyone could say it was a surprise. Whilst United had been much improved in the first half, the second half saw them defending stoically, but you felt it was only a matter of time until Martinez was beaten. As it was, it took a penalty to do it, club owner, captain and self-appointed on-field mouthpiece Kenan Malkicevic slotting it past Javi.
1-1 was a fair result The Inferno provided a good test, and for an expansion club, were well setup, with a couple of eyecatching players. If you're reading this from any of our league rivals, play close attention to Gabe Chistianson in the center. The elegant youngster was at the heart of much of Cedar Rapids' best work.
Next up is perhaps the sternest test we have ever experienced as a club, a trip to USPL National Champions Milwaukee Bavarians. It would be amazing if we could travel up there with a sizeable support. The thing DKCU has so many other clubs do not is fan numbers. We need to start using that to our advantage, home and away.
Let's go Greens!!