Ann Arbor — With cobra-like precision, Detroit City FC struck twice in the first half Sunday and bite victim AFC Ann Arbor had no antidote.
Shawn Lawson’s two-first half goals, which came 26 minutes apart, set the tone for an eventual 3-1 Le Rouge victory at Concordia University to clinch first place in the National Premier Soccer League Great Lakes Conference Division and run their unbeaten streak to 11 games (8-0-3).
Lawson administered the final dagger to record the hat trick in stoppage time, taking the feed from Zimbabwean midfielder Tendai Jirira who went on a darting run through midfield before sending the striker in on goal.
DCFC (9-1-3) returns to the postseason after missing out last year. AFC Ann Arbor (8-2-3) can clinch second place and the final playoff spot with a win over Toledo Villa on Friday at home.
Will Eskay had a stoppage time goal for the Mighty Oak, which were denied on a couple of quality chances in the second half, including one on a tremendous save by DCFC’s Hunter Morse in the 65th minute.
Lawson's three-goal output was but another marquee performance by the striker, whose uncanny knack for sniffing out scoring chances was on full display. He leads the team with 12 goals.
“He’ll score goals,” said DCFC coach Trevor James, who was doused with a Gatorade barrel full of ice water afterward. “He’ll put himself in an area where he will score.”
Said Lawson: "Sometimes you look around and see where the space is. ... I know it sounds simple."
DCFC took advantage in the 17th minute with Lawson pouncing on a cross that Ann Arbor goalkeeper Ian McGrane could not handle cleanly. Midfielder Kervin Kenton delivered the hard low shot across the 6-yard box that McGrane managed to deflect with his left hand, leaving the rebound for Lawson to tap home.
Le Rouge capitalized on an ill-advised Ann Arbor clearance in midfield, which enabled midfielder Danny Deakin to sprint down the left flank and fire a hard low shot for Lawson to redirect for the second goal of the half 26 minutes later.
Individual miscues led to both DCFC first-half goals, Ann Arbor coach Eric Rudland said.
“The first ball comes in and our right back brings it down and it’s a bad touch and loses it,” Rudland said. “A bad attacking moment sets up the first goal and the second goal our right center back, Frenchy (Matt Braem), who’s been phenomenal for us all year, dribbles in, loses and that springs their counter attack.
“For me, it wasn’t a matter of being good enough defensively, it was those two errors with the ball and Detroit did well to punish us for it.”
The 80-degree heat began to gnaw at both sides in the first half. Ann Arbor’s Jordan Montoya received a yellow for a high boot on DCFC’s Jalen Crisler in the 36th minute while Le Rouge’s Max Todd was cautioned for dissent followed a robust challenge in first-half stoppage time.
Cyrus Saydee received the start in midfield filling in for defender Moussa Gueye, who sustained a knee bruise in Friday’s draw. The mercurial midfielder played a full 90 minutes as James shifted from a 3-5-2 to a 4-1-3-2 with Saydee joining Bakie Goodman and Deakin playing behind Todd and Lawson.
“I think his fitness was always going to be tested as the game went on,” James said. “As I said the last couple of weeks, he’s been working really hard. His work rate has really improved.
“He really did that today. You know what the game meant and you work really hard not to give anything away.”
DCFC hosts Liga MX side FC Juarez in a friendly on Wednesday at Keyworth Stadium with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. The team wraps up the regular season Saturday at Kalamazoo FC.