Super subs propel Detroit City FC to NISA fall championship

Larry O'Connor
The Detroit News

In times of crisis, Detroit City FC’s bench became the phone booth in this superhero script.

Shawn-Claud Lawson and Ryan Peterson emerged from there wearing capes, supplying goals as substitutes in Friday’s 2-1 victory over the Oakland Roots in the National Independent Soccer Association Fall Championship at Hamtramck’s Keyworth Stadium.

Detroit City FC players celebrate after receiving the NISA Fall Championship trophy.

DCFC won the fall competition — its first in the new third-tier professional circuit — while playing five matches in 12 days. The weariness showed in the first half as Oakland took a 1-0 lead on Johnny Rodriguez’s goal off a header at the near post in the 27th minute.

Coach Trevor James swapped Lawson in for forward Yazeed Matthews in the 62nd minute. Four minutes later, the Toronto native responded by slamming in his fourth goal of the tournament, capitalizing on a sloppy clearance inside the 18-yard box.

Peterson, who replaced forward Max Todd in the 75th minute, latched onto a long ball from the midfield and caught Oakland Roots goalkeeper Christian Herrera in no-man’s land, lobbing a shotl over him and into the net. The goal was Peterson's first of the competition.

“It was a little bit of a chess match,” said James in a postmatch interview with beIN Sports Extra. “We had to move one or two pieces around and they had to move one or two pieces around.”

Le Rouge had to hold off a determined Oakland side, which had its own super-sub in Jack McInerney. The former MLS veteran rattled a shot in the 92nd minute of extra time while DCFC midfielder Connor Rutz adroitly headed away looping ball from the goal line in the 96th minute to preserve the victory.

DCFC defender Stephen Carroll, who played in all five matches despite dealing with an injured knee, received the tournament Golden Ball MVP award. Backline colleague Tendai Jiriri also received a call-up to the Zimbabwe national team, beIN Sports Extra reported.

Le Rouge looked sluggish in their tournament opener, losing to Pontiac-based Michigan Stars, 2-0, Sept. 21.

The club came into the fall competition having scored a measly three goals — all of those in a 3-0 home victory over New Amsterdam FC Sept. 5 — in four regular-season matches during an abbreviated fall schedule. Despite the lack of firepower, DCFC managed to extract two points from a pair of scoreless draws (Michigan Stars and New York Cosmos).

In the fall tournament, DCFC's luck turned on Yazeed Matthews' goal in the 54th minute to draw level against Oakland in Group A play. Lawson came on as a sub in the 78th minute and, two minutes later, bagged the winner for a 2-1 victory.

DCFC outlasted New Amsterdam 4-2 in the final Group A match on Sunday to advance to the semis where the players rallied for a 1-0 victory over the top-seeded LA Force.

"To be honest, we just clicked at the right moment," said Carroll in a postmatch interview on the club's Twitter feed. "All year, it's been up and down, up and down. In the last couple of days, after losing to the Stars, we kind of regrouped. We stopped moaning at ourselves and moaning at the referees, and started playing our game." 

The NISA Fall Tournament trophy is the biggest piece of silverware the club has collected under its second-year coach. On James' watch, DCFC took the NPSL Great Lakes Division in 2019, NPSL Members Cup last fall and the Great Lakes regional NISA Independent Cup in August.

Twitter: @larryo1961