By Justin Haggerty
MUSKEGON – You can’t win them all.
But their toughest test so far came on Friday night, when the Chicago Mustangs Premier squad visited L.C. Walker Arena for a Premier Arena Soccer League matchup.
This Chicago team is loaded with arena soccer veterans from its parent club. That experience showed when the Mustangs scored four goals in the first quarter and rolled to an 11-4 victory over the much younger and inexperienced Risers in front of a crowd estimated at 1,800 fans.
“It’s too bad we couldn’t get a couple goals earlier to get the crowd into it,” Risers head coach Ben Ritsema said.
“When we do score, you can tell the volume level goes up in the arena and I appreciate their support,” Ritsema said about the local fans. “They were still cheering for us when we were down in the fourth quarter. I’m disappointed we couldn’t win tonight, but I’m not disappointed in the fan support, that’s for sure.”
Chicago opened the scoring less than a minute into the game, and added three more goals in less than three minutes to take a 4-0 lead.
“I wish we could redo that first quarter – but then again, it taught us a lot about the next level of soccer,” Ritsema said. “I think after we got accustomed to the field and the way they played, we did much better.”
The Mustangs scored again with 5:46 to play in the second quarter before Muskegon’s Jake Rajewski got the Risers on the board with 1:19 remaining before halftime.
The Risers were down 5-1 at the break.
Both teams made halftime adjustments and played a very even third quarter in a defensive battle.
Muskegon’s Miguel Flores was whistled for a penalty with 3:26 remaining in the third. Just 49 seconds later, a Mustangs forward one-timed a hard pass off the end boards past Muskegon goalkeeper Tim Bergsma to put Chicago up 6-1 after three quarters.
The teams traded goals in the fourth quarter three different times, and Muskegon was not able to close the gap.
The Risers got goals from TJ Ifaturoti and captain Stuart Collins, as well as Rajewski’s second of the night, and trailed 9-4 with 4:09 to play in the game.
Chicago scored with 1:52 remaining, and again with just 15 seconds on the clock, to close out the scoring at 11-4.
Though the last Chicago goal meant nothing for the game, it brought the Risers back to an even goal differential for the season (goals for versus goals against).
Should the season come down to a tie-breaker, in terms of making the playoffs, goal differential becomes very important.
“Goal differential could come into play, which is why I didn’t want to pull the goalie, unless we got within two (goals),” Ritsema said. “We shortened the bench in the second half, and we had some tired legs out there for the last 2-3 minutes of the game, so that probably hurt us a little bit.”
The Risers hit the road for division battles against Cleveland and Cincinnati before returning home for the final weekend of the regular season ,with games on March 3rd and 4th.