GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After ending in a draw with Detroit City FC on June 29, Grand Rapids FC was forced to wait on FC Columbus to lose or draw for a playoff berth.
On Saturday, the Milwaukee Torrent delivered for the Boys in Blue.
They defeated Columbus 1-0 and pushed No. 6 seed GRFC (7-3-2, 23 points) into a quarterfinal matchup with North Conference No. 2 seed Duluth FC (8-2-4, 28 points). The game is set for 7 p.m. Saturday at Public Schools Stadium in Duluth, Minnesota.
“It’s been strange the way the season racked up for us because we basically played a heavy early season and had a week off last week,” GRFC head coach Lewis Robinson said. “We got to watch (Milwaukee) with a lot of suspense and see Milwaukee score a last-second goal that put us through. There was a lot of celebrations here on Saturday and then we could come right back to work (Sunday).”
Robinson said he and the team think they deserve to be in the top two and now understand the circumstances mean they have to win or go home.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t take care of business in that last game to get it done,” Robinson said. “But we are there now. There was a lot of happy emotion within the team and the staff on Saturday. But I think when you wake up Sunday, it’s time to get back at it.”
GRFC finished second in the National Premier Soccer League’s Great Lakes Conference to earn one of the six playoff spots in the Midwest Region. No. 2 Ann Arbor FC (9-1-2, 29 points) won the Great Lakes Conference and with it came a first-round bye. No. 1 Minneapolis City FC (10-0-4, 34 points) earned the other bye.
The other quarterfinal round is between two Eastern Conference squads: No. 4 Cleveland SC (7-2-3, 24 points) and No. 3 Eric Commodores FC (8-1-3, 27 points).
If GRFC wins Saturday, it will take on Minneapolis in the semifinal round July 20.
Following a full week off over the Fourth of July, Robinson said the team was back to work on Sunday.
Motivation for these upcoming playoffs, he believes, comes from season goals and the players’ past experiences of winning at the college level.
“They all have a joint desire to be successful and win,” Robinson said. “I don’t think there’s too much work needed there as far as motivating to win. I think it’s keeping everyone on the same page. Everyone is very excited for that chance.
“When you get into the playoffs at any age, especially in the NPSL, you shouldn’t have to get anyone up for a game,” he continued. “They better be ready for it and I think they are.”
This will be the first meeting between the Boys in Blue and Duluth. Robinson said he has watched film on the Torrent from the regular season.
“We know at this point in our season what we do well,” Robinson said. “Maybe some things that we don’t do well that we have learned from that we conceded goals from, we want to try and work on those and we will be ready for the weekend.”
Robinson plans to keep his team on a counterattack and create space on the field. He talked about set plays and corner kicks being important to the team’s offense and says they will work hard in those areas.
“Playoff games are so different to a regular season game because they are so much tighter and you don’t want to give anything away,” Robinson said. “The good things with these boys is we haven’t been in the playoffs in the past couple years and I think we all think we have a point to prove and we are going to make sure we take it.”
THE GRAND ARMY FOLLOWS
GRFC believes it has one of the best followings in the NLPS, which is led by the Grand Army.
With the game being away from GRFC’s home at Houseman Stadium, not the entire following will be able to make the game. But Robinson says some of them will make the 10-plus hour trip to Duluth.
“I know some of the Grand Army already has a plan which is crazy in itself, isn’t it? To show how committed they are and what a big part of this club they are,” Robinson said. “Even if the fans aren’t there like they are at Houseman, the boys and I all know they will be watching. We aren’t just playing for just ourselves.”
The motto for the team this season has been “For the city.” Robinson said it’s important to him because it’s what the club is built on.
“We always try to have local players, the best players from West Michigan,” he said. “We represent Grand Rapids every time we play. Every time we train, that’s what we are doing and I think that goes a long way in having a successful program.”