By Justin Haggerty

GRAND RAPIDS – The Muskegon Risers and Grand Rapids Football Club are both first-year professional soccer teams.LSJ Logo incert

But the Grand Rapids squad has probably made the bigger splash this summer with the media and the public.

It finished a very respectable second place in the Great Lakes Premier League, while the Risers played an independent schedule.

Grand Rapids packed Houseman Field with an average of about 4,000 fans per game. The Risers have drawn a lot of enthusiastic fans as wellrisers logo, but nothing close to GR.

A few Risers players were apparently apprehensive about playing in front of a big, boisterous crowd in Grand Rapids on Friday night, which was even bigger than usual, with paid attendance at 6,651.

But once the game got going, the nerves went away, and the Risers handed Grand Rapids FC and its fans a 3-1 defeat.

The Risers, now 9-3-1 on the season, captured their first and only road victory of 2015. They will wrap up their season with a home rematch against Grand Rapids Saturday at 6 p.m. at Reeths-Puffer High School.

“A couple of the guys were a little bit apprehensive about the crowd, playing in front of a big crowd,” said Risers Coach David Wood. “It’s nerve-wracking but they dealt with it well. As the game went on, those things definitely went away.

“It was a fantastic game. To be able to turn up here in Grand Rapids’ back yard and pull off that result is fantastic for us.”

Grand Rapids controlled the midfield in the first 10 minutes of the game, but could not capitalize.

“They have a lot of quality in their midfield, they have very talented players,” Wood said. “That was one of the things we worked on this week, how to play against it.”

The Risers broke the scoreless tie in the 19th minute of the game.

Defenseman Jai Maw drove the ball from the left wing to team captain Jamie Waters, who was waiting in the box and headed the ball past Grand Rapids goalkeeper Beau Prey.

Grand Rapids midfielder Noble Sullivan had several big chances to tie the match over the rest of the first half.

In the 23rd minute, he beat Maw at the 30 yard mark and drove the field, only to see his crossing pass deflected out of bounds by a waiting Muskegon defender.

In the 33rd minute, Sullivan broke in all alone deep in the left wing, hoping to shoot high over everyone into the net. But the Risers’ 6-7 goalkeeper, Reece Richardson, extending his right arm high above his head to punch the ball over the net and keep his team up a goal.

“It’s been the same Reece all year. He’s definitely been a rock in the back for us, he’s been fantastic there,” Wood said.  “He makes those big saves, he’s a very experienced player. He knows how to close a game out as well.”

Despite out shooting GRFC 6-2 in the first half, Muskegon entered the locker room with just a one goal lead.

That changed four minutes into the second half. Muskegon striker Jeff “Sir” McClure beat Prey to a loose ball and tapped it past the Grand Rapids keeper for an easy goal, giving Muskegon a 2-0 lead.

The final 35 minutes belonged to Grand Rapids, which battled to give its home fans something to cheer about.

In the 55th minute, a Grand Rapids striker beat the Muskegon defense, only to see the ball slide off his foot and roll harmlessly out of bounds.

The 71st minute saw a Muskegon defenseman whistled for a hand ball in the 18 yard box, leading to a GRFC penalty kick.

Dominic Barone took the kick and beat Richardson from close range, making the score 2-1.

But that’s as close as the home team got.

Muskegon’s Robby Gunderson capped the scoring in stoppage time, beating the entire Grand Rapids defense on the left wing and pushing the ball past Prey’s left side.

“I thought we did what we needed to do to come away with the result,” Wood said. “It’s a good result for the guys and they’re all happy about it.”

Tempers rose on both teams late in the contest, and pushing and shoving ensued, leading to yellow cards for each squad.

But Waters, the Risers’ captain, doesn’t expect the play to be rough in Saturday’s rematch.

“It was a big game, good players both sides,” he said. “Little challenges in the middle, it’s heat of the moment stuff on the field.

“If it rolls on to tomorrow, I’m going to stay away from it. I’m just going to play my game exactly like I did tonight.”