A hot stadium led to a blazing finish for the Thunder (2-3-0) on Saturday evening as they toppled Duluth FC (2-2-1) in thrilling fashion 2-1. The brutal heat didn’t stop the tough Thunder fans from attending, as a big crowd filled the O’Gorman stadium for the action-packed evening.
A free kick from just outside the corner of the box presented Duluth with their first opportunity of the game, but the taken shot went high and wide. Both sides played cautiously for the next quarter hour, with only one real Thunder opportunity present. A header inside the box from Duluth showed real promise, but the shot arced over the bar.
The Thunder pushed just before the water break, with a breakaway from Stevenson Storm that petered out in the 26th minute and a slicing pass across the goal from Brennan Haggerty that found no one waiting three minutes later.
However, the water break seemed to breathe new life into Duluth. They found their rhythm, attacking incessantly with lofted balls around and over the defense, forcing Thunder goalkeeper Federico Simonetti to make several saves. Another set piece for Duluth in the 43rd minute was the last of this rush. They played it quick, not allowing the Thunder time to set up a wall, but the resulting shot skimmed wide.
One more push from the Thunder, including corner kicks in the 45th minute and the 2nd minute of stoppage time, couldn’t break through the Duluth defense. The scoreboard remained 0-0 through the halftime whistle.
Duluth continued to send long balls after the break, utilizing their fast threats on the outside. The Thunder defense held, leading to a counter and a 3-on-2 in the 54th minute. The shot from Thunder midfielder Kirubel Yerga was deflected, and the resulting corner didn’t pan out.
Duluth’s first promising play of the second half came in the 60th minute. Another lofted ball fell at the feet of the Duluth attacker inside the box and behind the defense, but the touch didn’t stick and Simonetti recovered the loose ball. Riley Aarbo and Diego Esquivel subbed in for the Thunder three minutes later, an attempt from head coach Ryan Beier to provide a boost of energy to the team. It seemed to work, as pressure mounted from the Thunder, including a close call off a fumble from Duluth keeper Brendan Dally and a free kick from Yerga that sailed high. Duluth was undeterred, and had a goal taken from them by the crossbar in the 74th minute.
The second water break quenched the players’ thirst, and foreshadowed the end of the goal drought. The Thunder midfield weaved through the defense thanks to stellar buildup play from Brennan Haggerty and Yerga. Fellow midfielder Trace Dobson read his comrades' play perfectly, and broke the tie in the 82nd minute.
The drama had just begun. A flurry of yellow cards for the Thunder followed the goal, culminating in one for both Esquivel and midfielder Mario Cernas in the 85th minute and a Duluth free kick just outside the box. Talented Duluth striker Caleb Tammi stepped up to take the shot, driving it past Simonetti to tie the game with just four minutes left in regulation.
Frenzied play ensued as both teams saw three points within reach. In the final moments of stoppage time, a hard foul from Duluth defender Jake Starling on Aarbo gave the Thunder a free kick from 25 yards. With seconds left in the game, Brandon, SD native Tyler Limmer curled the ball around Dally and slotted it into the bottom right corner, lifting the Thunder to a 2-1 victory over Duluth FC.
“I thought we played well defensively,” said Beier. “Really stuck to our game plan. Our offense was able to generate far more chances in the second half. We were able to break through with the first goal, then really respond well after they tied it. Great finish on that last goal.”
The Thunder will once again take to their home stadium at O’Gorman high school on Wednesday, June 9th at 7 pm in their rematch against second-ranked Med City.