By Steve Gunn

MUSKEGON – When the Muskegon Risers learned they would play an independent indoor schedule this winter, the concern was finding quality opponents.

That issue became a little more pronounced this week when Oakland County FC, an old rival from recent years, pulled out of Saturday’s game due to weather concerns.

The Risers filled the opening with their affiliate development team (like a farm club), the Great Lakes Wanderers, who are based in Cedar Springs.

The matchup certainly had the potential to be a blowout, but at least there would be a game.

Luckily for the estimated 1,500 fans in attendance, the Wanderers brought their ‘A’ game and put up a fight – at least for one half – forcing the Risers to work for a one-goal halftime lead.

Reality set in in the second half, when the Risers broke open the floodgates to claim a 15-3 victory at Mercy Health Arena (formerly known as L.C. Walker Arena), but Coach Ben Ritsema said his team got a good workout after a long holiday break.

The Risers were led by TJ Ifaturoti, who scored five goals, while Brad Macomber and Miguel Flores scored three apiece.

Muskegon will return to action on Jan. 25 with a home game against Fort Wayne FC.

Miguel Flores manages the ball for the Risers. Photo/Leo Valdez

“Over the holidays we took a couple weeks off from practice,” said Ritsema, whose team is now 2-0 on the season. “Maybe the long layover had something to do with it. You saw the difference in the second half.”

An early blowout looked likely in the first couple minutes, when the Risers scored on their first two shots on goal. Macomber took a cross-field pass and found the net from the right side just 46 seconds into the game, and Flores made it 2-0 at the 3:48 mark.

But the Wanderers answered with goals by Logan DuShane (5:48) and Jubernal Rodriguez (6:12), leaving the score tied 2-2 after one quarter. Great Lakes goalie Alex Visscher turned in several big saves to keep the game close.

The Risers had plenty of chances to take control in the second quarter, outshooting the Wanderers 7-2. But many Muskegon shots were high or wide, and the visitors did a good job of killing off a two-minute Risers power play.

Ifaturoti scored two goals for Muskegon in the second quarter, the second coming on a penalty kick just 1:28 before halftime. Great Lakes’ Austin Snyder scored just eight seconds before Ifaturoti’s second goal, and the Risers clung to a tight 4-3 lead at halftime.

“I think we took that two-goal lead and relaxed a little bit,” Ritsema said. “Their keeper was amazing. He made some great saves. We were happy to go in to halftime with at least a one-goal lead so we could build on it.”

The Risers straightened their shots out and took control in the third quarter, scoring eight unanswered goals. Flores led things off with a goal just 27 seconds in, then scored his third goal of the game later in the quarter.

James Dutcher controls the possession for Muskegon. Photo/Leo Valdez

Ifaturoti also scored his third goal in the third quarter, while Macomber scored his second. Single goals came from Moses Crawford, Cameron Brandow, Greg Williams and William Gurerroro.

Muskegon was completely dominant in the third, outshooting the Wanderers 18-0.

The Risers led 12-3 headed into the fourth quarter, then added three more goals down the stretch – two more from Ifaturoti and one from Macomber.

Scoring summary

First quarter
M – :46 – Brad Macomber 1-0 Risers
M – 3:48 – Miguel Flores – 2-0 Risers
GL – 5:48 – Logan DuShane – 2-1 Risers
GL – 6:12 – Jubernal Rodriguez – 2-2

Second quarter
M – 5:19 – TJ Ifaturoti – 3-2 Risers
GL – 13:20 – Austin Snyder – 3-3
M – 13:12 – TJ Ifaturoti – 4-3 Risers

Third quarter
M  – :27 – Miguel Flores – 5-3 Risers
M – 2:19 – Moses Crawford – 6-3 Risers
M – 4:39 – Cameron Brandow – 7-3 Risers
M – 6:19 – Greg Williams  – 8-3 Risers
M –  10:02 – Brad Macomber – 9-3 Risers
M – 10:44 – Miguel Flores – 10-3 Risers
M – 12:41 – William Guerrero – 11-3 Risers
M – 13:53 – TJ Ifaturoti – 12-3 Risers

Fourth quarter
M – 2:03 – TJ Ifaturoti – 13-3 Risers
M – 6:50 – Brad Macomber – 14-3 Risers
M – 12:08 – TJ Ifaturoti – 15-3 Risers