By Justin Haggerty

MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Risers had a chance to make team history on Saturday by qualifying for the playoffs in their first year in a league.

All the second-place Risers had to do was defeat third-place Toledo Villa FC to gain a berth in the Premier League of America (PLA) playoff tournament next weekend in Milwaukee.

Ryan Wagenmaker heads in the tying goal for Muskegon. Photo/Tim Reilly

They could have also qualified in with a tie, plus a little help from Oakland County FC.

But nothing went according to plan.

The Risers didn’t play their best and trailed Toledo 1-0 at the end of regulation. But they took advantage of “stoppage time” (extra time put on the clock at the end of regulation due to delays in play during the game) and managed to secure a 1-1 tie at Muskegon Catholic Central High School.

Muskegon earned one point in the league’s Eastern Division standings for the tie, and finished the regular season with 18 points.

Unfortunately for the Risers, Carpathia, which came into its game in fourth place in the division, defeated Oakland County FC 6-2 on Saturday and gained three points in the standings. That left Carpathia and Muskegon tied for second place with 18 points apiece.

Carpathia needed to win by fewer than four goals for the Risers to get the second and final playoff spot. It’s victory margin was four goals, meaning Carpathia got the final playoff spot based on overall goal differential, and the Risers fell just short of the playoffs.

Muskegon finished its season with a 5-2-3 record in the PLA.

Justice Sikkema follows through on the throw in. Photo/Tim Reilly

Toledo controlled the play for most of the first half, outshooting the Risers 8-2, but Muskegon goalkeeper Carter Selvius held the visitors to just one goal.

That goal came in the 29th minute when Toledo’s Robert Miller launched a throw-in from the right side deep into the scoring box, and Aerin West headed the ball in from the far post.

The second half was more physical, with six yellow cards being issued and both goalkeepers making sprawling saves.

Being down by a goal late in the game, Ritsema emptied his bench and put pressure on the Toledo defense down the stretch.

“We’ve had the deepest bench in the league and I wasn’t afraid to put guys in,” said Risers Coach Ben Ritsema. “They came in and gave us a lift. I was happy with our intensity until the end of the game.”

After 90 minutes of regulation play had expired, Muskegon still trailed, but the extra time put on the clock gave the Risers the extra opportunity they needed.

Pere Adrian Servera had a corner kick for the Risers and placed the ball into a herd of players in front of the Toledo net.

The ball bounced around to Ryan Wagenmaker, who scored and tied the game at 1-1.

Paris Martens brings the ball upfield for the Risers. Photo/Tim Reilly.

“It was pretty frantic,” Wagenmaker said. “We were throwing everything at them (down the stretch), we had a lot of guys going forward and the intensity was high.

“(For the corner) we had everyone up in the box. Pere crossed it in a little short and it bounced around a little bit, and kind of fell right on a pedestal for me. All I could do was tap it in. It looked like the defender got his head on it and tapped it into the top of the net.”

The Risers left the field hoping that Carpathia would lose, or at least win by fewer than four goals, allowing them to gain second place and the final playoff spot, but it wasn’t to be.

Despite the disappointment, Ritsema said he was pleased with the team’s first season in the PLA.

“It’s a much higher-level game, the skill of the players is way better,” said Ritsema, whose team played as an independent for its first two summer outdoor seasons. “It’s so much more fun to be in a league, to play a game like this where you know you have to get a result.

“I just think it brings more excitement to the game, more excitement to the Muskegon community. I’m pretty glad that we entered the league. It’s a nice league for our fit. I couldn’t ask for a better first year being in a league.”

The Risers swarm Ryan Wagenmaker after netting the tying goal. Photo/Tim Reilly