Jalen Crisler's first goal as a Detroit City FC player enabled Le Rouge to keep nipping at the heels of first-place New York Cosmos in the chase for the NPSL Members Cup.
Crisler's headed strike in the 77th minute, which came off a corner from James Vaughan, was the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over Chattanooga FC Saturday at Finley Stadium.
The victory enabled unbeaten DCFC (5-0-1) to within striking distance of the Cosmos (6-0-2), who defeated Milwaukee, 2-1, Saturday.
Detroit hosts Michigan Stars (2-3-1) on Tuesday at Keyworth Stadium (7:30) before a crucial return engagement with the Cosmos in New York on Saturday.
The former Gonzaga standout was finally was able to see his 6-foot-4 frame pay off in front of the opposing goal. After a few near misses this season, he claimed his first tally.
Vaughan swung his corner kick wide for DCFC defender Stephen Carroll, who nodded the ball back toward the six-yard box. Crisler emerged from the crowd to head it into the net.
"It's pretty funny," said Crisler, who has been a mainstay on DCFC's backline this season. "I usually make the run to the back post and I always talk about nodding it back to (Carroll) and for him to head it in. We sort of switched roles tonight where he went to the back post and he was able to put nice ball back across and I was able to attack it.
"It was a great ball from James and a great job from Stephen to give me a chance for it and to take advantage of it."
Goalkeeper Nate Steinwascher posted his second straight shutout, his fourth in Members Cup play. He charged off his line to snatch the ball from Chattanooga's Alun Webb, who was bearing in alone on goal in the 87th minute.
A minute later, Chattanooga goalkeeper Phil D’Amico denied Rich Bryan's bid to give Detroit a two-goal cushion, diving to his right to palm away the Englishman's shot with a left hand.
DCFC coach Trevor James switched up his personnel, rolling out a 3-4-2-1 formation where Tendai Jirira was moved to the backline from midfield and Yazeed Matthews started as the lone striker.
Matthews made his presence felt, earning a yellow card for colliding with D'Amico in the first half. The former AFC Ann Arbor striker claimed he was pushed into the Chattanooga keeper but his appeal did not win favor with the referee.
Jirira earned Man of the Match honors for his tireless work rate.
The tactical switch was two-fold, James said. DCFC wanted to curb Chattanooga's blistering speed while also using wings Marcello Borges and Bryan to deliver crosses into the 18-yard box.
DCFC defeated Chattanooga, 2-1, at Keyworth on Aug. 17. Both clubs are planning to join the professional third-tier National Independent Soccer Association in the spring.
"That was the purpose, one to stop them from playing through the middle, which we did, and two, to get us more service," the coach said. "The quality wasn't as good as would've liked it, but we did get more service in the box. That was thinking behind it and tonight it worked."
The ability to tinker without missing a beat is what makes this DCFC team a special one, Crisler said.
"To have that kind of flexibility where we can kind of rotate around or switch formations and plug guys in in different positions, guys like Marcello (Borges) and Rich (Bryan) on the wings and Tendai being able to slide into the middle was huge tonight, especially with that big of a pitch we were playing on tonight," Crisler said.