By Andrew Johnson
MUSKEGON – The new indoor soccer season had not been very kind to the Muskegon Risers.
Muskegon’s matchup against Detroit Waza Flo didn’t start out any better, with the Risers falling behind 6-2 at halftime.
But then they roared to life, outscoring Detroit 9-1 in the second half to capture a thrilling 11-7 victory and their first ever win in the Major Arena Soccer League 2.
“I gave them a pretty good spirited talk at halftime,” said Risers Coach Ben Ritsema. “They responded well. Two or three other guys spoke up too and said, ‘We’re going to win this game.’ I appreciate the leadership out of Stu Collins and Matt Schmitt. They kind of fired up the guys, and the team responded well.
“We can play at this level, and if we play hard, defend well, and don’t make mistakes we can compete. It was great to finally get some goals in and a win at this level. I’m really excited.”
The Risers had great offensive balance, with eight different players scoring goals. Former North Muskegon High School All-Stater Justice Sikkim led the way with three goals while TJ Ifaturoti added two.
The game was special for Sikkema, who was playing with the Risers during the holiday break, but will leave the team to return to college in England in a few days.
“We overcame some obstacles for sure,” said Sikkema, who also played for the Risers outdoor team last summer. “We knew if we played our game and stayed consistent we could wear them down by the end. We’ve got some kinks to work out, but we proved today what we can do. It was a fun game to play.”
While Sikkema will leave the team for the rest of the indoor season, he said his Risers career is not over.
“It was nice to come back and play in front of the home crowd,” the 19-year-old said. “I’ll be back.”
The Risers started out very slowly and didn’t get a shot on goal in the first
nine minutes of the game. They trailed 3-0 after the first quarter.
Detroit led 5-0 in the second quarter when Muskegon’s Matt Schmitt scored off an assist from Collins to make the score 5-1.
Paris Martins added a goal for the Risers with 1:36 left in the first half to make the score 5-2, then Detroit scored again to take a 6-2 lead into halftime.
Sikkema scored for the first time with 9:21 remaining in the third quarter to cut the Risers’ deficit to 6-3.
Detroit responded with a goal of its own with 2:31 left in the third to extend its lead to 7-3.
The rest of the game belonged to the Risers.
Nick Capisciolto scored on a long shot from beyond midfield with 1:28 left in the third quarter to make the score 7-4. Only 50 seconds later, Collins scored from 15 yards out to make the score 7-5, then a shorthanded goal by Ifaturoti with 2.3 seconds left made the score 7-6.
The Risers’ Kody Harrell scored three minutes into the final quarter to tie the game 7-7.
After a shouting and shoving match on the field, which led to the ejection of Muskegon’s Michael Schmitt and Detroit’s Dominic Scicluna, the Risers ended up with a 4-on-3 advantage with 9:01 remaining.
They took advantage of the power play when Adam Clauss scored with 7:14 left to give Muskegon an 8-7 lead.
Ifaturoti added a goal, and Sikkema found the back of the net two more times, sealing the victory for the Risers.
Muskegon outshot Detroit 24-18 in the game after being outshot 13-6 in the first half.
While the Risers scored a lot of goals, Ritsema said improved team defense made a big difference.
“The whole team defensively played tighter,” said Ritsema, noting that his team only gave up one second-half goal. “We didn’t give them as much room. I think against Chicago (on Friday night), you have to give them some more space because they’re a little trickier with the ball, but we were able to apply more pressure against these guys.”
The Risers will return to action with another home game against Detroit Waza Flo on Jan. 19.