Mason, Mich. — A five-minute reprieve from the searing heat in the first half enabled Lansing United to strike for two quick goals, which allowed the Premier Development League club to hoist the Michigan Milk Cup Wednesday after a 3-2 victory over holders AFC Ann Arbor at Mason High School.
As the sun dipped briefly behind the clouds amid 95-degree temperatures, midfielder DeJuan Jones scored on a corner in the 21st minute and was credited with a goal a three minutes later though it appeared an Ann Arbor defender inadvertently deflected the ball in.
The sides swapped penalty kicks in a tension-filled final 10 minutes, which included Lansing United being reduced to nine men after midfielder Stevee Pouna received a second yellow card
Yuri Farkas clinically converted two penalties (87’ and 96’) for Ann Arbor, which won the United Dairy Industry of Michigan-sponsored competition last year.
Pouna scored the winner in the 90th minute off a penalty kick, which AFC Ann Arbor goalkeeper Nick Barry initially saved but couldn't corral as the midfielder quickly pounced on the rebound to restore Lansing’s two-goal advantage.
The Milk Cup winner receives $5,000 in prize money. Lansing United owner Jeremy Sampson said the winnings will help the amateur club offset operating costs, which have increased with more travel involved in the move to the PDL from the National Premier Soccer League this year.
Lansing advanced to the final after downing Michigan Premier Soccer League Livonia City FC, 9-1, in aggregate over two legs and defeating NPSL Grand Rapids FC, 4-3, on PKs after a 1-1 draw in the semifinals.
Lansing United played more than half of Wednesday's contest with 10 players after midfield Leroy Enzugusi was sent off for his studs-high tackle on AFC Ann Arbor defender Sercan Cihan in the 38th minute.
The personnel reduction didn’t faze Lansing, which spent the next the 52 minutes or so hunkered down and neutralizing Ann Arbor on the counter attack.
“We had a really good game going; it wasn’t a red card,” Lansing United coach Nate Miller said. “Unfortunately, it made the final into a really weird game it didn’t have to be.”
Jones, whose speed proved problematic for Ann Arbor’s backline, had a chance to pad Lansing’s lead when he broke in alone in the 82nd minute but his low shot ricocheted off the right goalpost. Cihan also cleared a headed ball off the line 13 minutes earlier to prevent a sure Lansing goal.
“We obviously we wanted to manage our energy, but more with our possession," Miller said. "We were doing a good job of that in the first half, but when you go down to 10 you have to totally change.
“We even created way more chances than them with 10 men just because we countered attacked pretty well.”
After a frustrating first half, Ann Arbor attempted to build possession through the stewardship of Jack Cawley, Breno Stapcinskas, Jake Rosen and Cihan out of the back.
Cawley’s bending free kick around a five-man Lansing United wall in the 69th minute produced a superb diving save from goalkeeper Anthony Mwembia, who pushed the ball away with his right hand.
The second-half introduction of speedy forward Azaad Liadi produced the intended effect when he was hauled down in the area, providing Ann Arbor with its first penalty.
Farkas buried it to Mwembia’s right. After Pouna converted Lansing United’s penalty, Cawley was run over by Mwembia in the penalty area, which produced another yellow card and another penalty kick in the 96th minute. Farkas went to the keeper’s right on his second spot kick.
AFC Ann Arbor wraps up its NPSL regular-season campaign Saturday when it hosts FC Indiana at Ann Arbor Skyline High, while Lansing United will host Derby City Rovers at East Lansing Soccer Complex in PDL play. Both matches kick off at 7 p.m.