By Jason Goorman
Muskegon Risers fans and players have been itching for action to start up again at Mercy Health Arena and all were well satisfied after Saturday’s exciting night.
The Risers hosted Chicago and did not disappoint with an 11-10 win that went down to the wire on the second night of the team’s home opening weekend. Muskegon fell 8-5 on Friday night to visiting Cleveland.
Muskegon’s win over Chicago was especially sweet because it was the first time in franchise history the team has beaten the Mustangs.
Spring Lake’s Ryan Zietlow gave the Risers offense ample support and inspiration, netting four goals including the game winner.
Zietlow’s inspired play combined with his team’s desire to beat Chicago for the first time, rubbed off on everyone in the building including forward Miguel Flores and defenseman Cody Loss.
The pair played with a certain intensity that fans and teammates fed off of.
Flores rushed the Chicago net hard throughout the contest, setting up a number of exciting breakaways that put a lot of pressure on the Chicago defense.
“Just be tenacious,” said Flores about his high-intensity play that set up some great opportunities on offense. “I try to read the plays ahead of time and get into spaces I know I can dominate in.”
The forward found the back of the net twice for Muskegon, with both coming at important junctions of the game.
After the Risers took a 2-1 first-quarter lead off Robbie Johnson and Aldony Mendez goals, Muskegon struggled at the start of the second quarter.
Chicago blazed out three-straight goals to take a 4-2 lead.
Flores stepped up with a minute left in the quarter and lasered a shot into the net on an opportunity he created with a defensive steal.
“Just from being from the city (Muskegon), we all just play with a chip on our shoulders,” said Flores about his hustle play. “All of us want to push it and all of us wanted to come out on top tonight.”
Zietlow tied the score at 4-4 with just three seconds left before halftime on a 3 on 1 breakaway. Aldony Mendez timed a perfect cross pass that the Spring Lake grad hammered home.
Muskegon came out of the break with the same fire it started with, and took a 5-4 lead just seconds into the third quarter on a Moses Crawford goal.
Two minutes later, Loss came up with a big defensive stop on a hard sliding tackle that stripped the ball from a charging Chicago offense in the Risers’ zone.
“We really wanted to get this one,” said Loss who was eventually ejected from the contest late in the game for an intense exchange with the referees. “We hadn’t ever beaten them (Chicago), we lost to them in our second game of the season in overtime at their place so it was kind of a grudge match.”
Loss played intense defense hitting the turf on a number of hard sliding tackles that stopped Chicago’s attack. The veteran’s play was key for helping goaltender Akani Miyambu.
Miyambu came up with big saves throughout the night for Muskegon who was outshot by Chicago, 27-21.
Muskegon eventually took a 6-4 lead off a free kick from Brandon Edwards who dropped a pass back to Zietlow who hammered a shot through the Chicago defense.
The Risers took a 7-4 lead on an Elmendin Zukic goal that he snuck past the Chicago goalie inside the far-side post.
After a pair of Chicago goals that cut Muskegon’s lead to 7-6, the Risers answered with another Zietlow goal on the power play.
Miyambu set up the power play with a solid save and sent a quick feed to a breaking Flores who was taken down by a Chicago defender.
The Mustangs answered however with 42 seconds left in the third quarter to cut Muskegon’s lead to a single goal, 8-7.
Chicago tied the score, 8-8 early in the fourth quarter but gave the Risers help with a pair of unneeded penalties.
Mendez capitalized on the first Chicago mistake and gave the Risers a 9-8 lead. Then Flores pounded home his second goal off a Zietlow assist during another power play.
Both goals came at a key point of the game in the middle of the fourth quarter where momentum can quickly switch in arena soccer.
Chicago answered with a goal on a broken up play in front of the Muskegon net, for a 10-9 score.
But Zietlow gave Muskegon some breathing room when he fired in a free kick with two minutes left for an 11-9 lead.
Chicago came up with its final goal with just 19 seconds left after pulling its goalie for a man advantage.
Check out photos from the action shot by Leo Valdez.