By Justin Haggerty
Last summer GRFC and the Muskegon Risers hooked up for two games in a home-and-home series. While both pro soccer teams were in their inaugural seasons, it was widely assumed that the Grand Rapids club, which plays in a league, would have the edge over the Risers, who play an independent schedule.
The Risers stunned everyone by winning both games in what quickly developed into a physical and passionate rivalry between the teams.
That rivalry was renewed on Saturday night at Houseman Field in Grand Rapids. GRFC managed to escape with a victory, 1-0 over the Risers, in front of an uncharacteristically small crowd of 3,260 fans, many of them from Muskegon.
It was the first and only meeting between the two teams this season. The game was considered an exhibition for GRFC, before it dives into its regular schedule in the National Premier Soccer League.
The Risers, who opened their season with a loss to Detroit City last week, fell to 0-2. They will visit Oakland County FC on May 21 before playing their home opener on May 28 against CKS Warta at 6 p.m. at Reeths-Puffer High School.
The ‘Blues,’ as the Grand Rapids team is referred to, came out swinging in the early minutes, leading to the first and only goal of the contest.
GRFC earned three offside calls and a corner kick in the first six minutes of the match. The corner led to a shot that sailed just over the Muskegon net.
GRFC connected in the seventh minute when defender Peter Brown attempted a crossing pass that the Riser defense was unable to clear. The ball ended up on the foot of GRFC midfielder Greg Timmer, who found the back of the Muskegon net.
“They came out with a lot of energy,” Muskegon head coach Ben Ritsema said. “They probably had the revenge factor on their mind and they’re playing on their home field, so they came out with a lot more energy the first 10 or 15 (minutes).
“I really was worried about the first 10 or 15 (minutes) before the game. We just had one bad misplay out of the back, they took advantage and they put it in.”
Play was more even for the rest of the first half.
The Risers’ best scoring opportunity of the half came in the 39th minute when Muskegon’s Steve Carroll and Stuart Collins broke in on the Grand Rapids goal. They were aggressively challenged by GRFC goalkeeper Dary Dewalt, who came out and dove for the ball near the edge of the goal box, knocking down a Riser player, earning a yellow card and giving Muskegon a free kick inches outside the box.
The Muskegon players thought the play occurred inside the box, which would have resulted in a penalty kick from close range. The players pleaded their case with the referee, to no avail.
The ensuing possession following the free kick ended with a Collins shot that went over the Grand Rapids net.
“(Dewalt) was the last defender so he could have been sent off for that, and that could have changed the outcome of the game,” Ritsema said. “The ref didn’t see it that way so that’s the way it goes.”
The second half was evenly matched, with each team having scoring chances but neither able to capitalize due to excellent goalkeeping by Dewalt and Muskegon’s Tyler Lane.
Despite the loss, Ritsema was happy with the way his team regrouped after the shaky start and controled more of the play down the stretch.
“We corrected some things at halftime and the guys responded well to those corrections,” he said. “We really had some chances in the second half. I thought Tyler Lane played real well. He made some very nice saves for us and was really solid for us.”
Overall, Ritsema saw improvement from last week’s 5-1 loss in Detroit and said he’s excited about his team’s future.
“All in all, not bad, especially in the second half,” he said.