Confidence is such a fragile thing, impossible to store; keeping any balance of it can seem daunting - the units of its delivery are so minuscule, and those of its removal so gigantic. A teaspoon in. A bucket out.
Detroit City FC entered Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup second-round match against FC Cincinnati as distinct underdogs to one of the front-running sides in the USL, but they had a plan. They’d find their footing and grow into the game; they’d horde their hard-won confidence, piling up the teaspoons until they began to truly add up. It should be noted this approach is hardly unique - it is, in fact, the favored approach of cup underdogs the world over, for one reason: It works. ‘Keep it tight, get your feet under you, get a couple breaks, and anything can happen’ is the basic formula.
Through 90 minutes, City played this plan to perfection, building from strength to strength, becoming more themselves after an edgy start. They even led briefly, on Shawn Lawson’s deft 31st-minute goal. But two moments of skill from Emery Welshman scraped two massive buckets of confidence out of Le Rouge’s hard-won stash, leaving the visitors visibly shaken and unable to recover. What promised to be an epic US Open Cup tilt came a bit unwound at the end, with the 4-1 result perhaps a bit generous in favor of the side from the Queen City.
It all started so promisingly. Detroit City started cautiously, playing narrowly and allowing Cincinnati the run of the flanks in favor of choking off incisive play through the middle. In short, it worked, as the early minutes trickled away in a series of squibbed crosses and shots through traffic from distance. The game was about half an hour in, and the hosts passing about perhaps a shade too confidently, when City left back Elliott Bentley stepped in front of a through ball and tapped the ball to Danny Deakin, who just showing deep into the left channel.
Deakin turned like a guy who saw the chance coming. Bursting forward, he took space until challenged, then used a one-two with Rafa Mentzingen to free himself, now in the attacking left channel, some 90 yards from his first touch. Another touch chopped the play infield - Rafa’s distraction run clearing space a bit - and he rolled the ball to Shawn Lawson, now fading into space behind the penalty spot.
Lawson had a lot to do, as mammoth FCC centerback Forrest Lasso was closing hard, and his decisions in the moment had more than a touch of genius. Letting the ball run to his right foot, Lawson let Lasso come, let the keeper start closing the space, let everyone and everything around the match stop and focus on him, waiting, before waterbugging a yard to the right at the last moment, leaving the entirety of the defense unmanned and grasping with the simplest of movements. Shawn’s rolled finish felt like a fitting end to a really beautiful bit of football: after 31 minutes, 0-1, Detroit City, against all probability.
Cincinnati responded immediately, cranking up the intensity of their defensive pressure and winning corner after corner. Just four minutes after the City goal, Le Rouge struggled to clear one of FCC’s many corners, and the second cross came to aforementioned huge person Lasso. His header back across goal wrong-footed Welshman, but the Ontarian got enough on his header to tie the game at 1.
That’s where it would stay until extra time. Detroit City’s slowly-mounting confidence earned them the better of the chances over the final 30 minutes of regular time, but they couldn’t find the breakthrough. It cost them almost immediately after the start of extra time - FC Cincinnati came out swarming, trying to regain the upper hand, and that’s exactly what they did.
It started with the only FCC goal not scored by Welshman - and this one, he set up. Freezing Bentley with a stutter move, Welshman streaked to the goal-line in the 94th minute, finding Corben Bone fading back behind the spot for a simple finish past a defense caught in transition. Less than 5 minutes later, he crushed any City hopes of a comeback, absolutely pulverizing a finish from 22 yards into the upper 90, a goal in any league, anywhere. As a competitive contest, the game was over: 3-1, FC Cincinnati, with just about 20 minutes left.
City staggered about a bit after Welshman’s hammer-blow, dumb-struck, while Cincinnati poured through them. Only Welshman, completing his perfect hat-trick (header, right foot, left foot) by stroking an off-foot finish past City 'keeper Nate Steinwascher, ended the reeling. 4-1, Cincinnati.
The scoreline flatters the hosts, absolutely. There are universes very near this one where City plays next week in Pittsburgh; where Lawson’s stinging shot late in the second half doesn’t hit the keeper’s dragging leg, for example. Their Open Cup run behind them, Detroit City will now shift gears to focusing on winning the NPSL Great Lakes Division. But first, Le Rouge have the most exquisite palate-cleanser imaginable, Saturday’s celebratory friendly with another People’s Club, FC St. Pauli from Hamburg. Germany. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Keyworth.
US OPEN CUP SECOND ROUND: FC CINCINNATI 3, DETROIT CITY FC 1, A.E.T.
FC Cincinnati 1 0 2 1 - 4
Detroit City FC 1 0 0 0 - 1
Goals: DCFC - Lawson (31’). FCC - Welshman (35’, 99’, 110’), Bone (94’).
Detroit City FC (4-2-3-1): Steinwascher; Bentley, Fiscus, Carroll, Sinclair; Williams, Bartel; Mentzingen, Deakin (Amann 103’), Green (Shrimpton 67’); Lawson (Chomakov 113’).