NISA Independent Cup : 1st Round

Less than 24 hours after an away game with MN Blizzard ended 8-0 to Dakota Fusion, the #1 seed in the NPSL Midwest Region faced an altogether more challenging opponent in UPSL/MASL side Vlora FC on Sunday afternoon. Despite missing the UPSL Premier Division playoffs, Vlora have made a season of eye-catching cup contests – often on the road. 

This was the first round of the Great Lakes Region of NISA Independent Cup, a cluster of regional mini tournaments which each have a winner and a participating NISA professional side. In the case of the Great Lakes, that is Michigan Stars FC – although they are on the ‘other side of the bracket’ from tonight’s combatants. 

After an opening 18 minutes dominated by Fusion, the hosts went ahead through Nicolo Lai, finishing a passage of pinball in the box. Five minutes later, the visitors took advantage of an errant header by a Fusion defender across the box to head themselves level through Tensing Walker.  

Vlora goalkeeper Mitchell Wolff then kept his team in the game before the visitors ended the first half in the ascendency but tied on goals, including hammering the ball off the crossbar from 20 yards away. 

Oliver Benson dribbled through multiple defenders but Wolff blocked his shot, point blank.

Fusion began the second half on the front foot, and a shot across the goal very nearly resulted in an own goal, ricocheting off the post. In the 50th minute, the referee missed a Fusion penalty kick – instead ruling that the foul took place outside the area. He placed the ball literally on the penalty area line. 

There was a 20 minute period of back and forth pressure before a defense splitting pass was squared to James Narke for the cushioned tap in to put Fusion back on top in the 76th minute. Both sides had free kicks but no clear chances and it was Fusion who moved on. 

Speaking to us after the match, Dakota Fusion head men’s coach Alex Trent said

While I would have liked for us to play better and finish our chances in the first half, finding a way to get a result and overcome more adversity is a good sign that the guys are growing and maturing. A lot of guys stepped up today with us putting out a completely different lineup than in our game last night. Really proud of James Narke getting the winner after the long journey he has been on this summer with us to get back into playing after several years out of the game – he has been a huge part of our success day to day during the season and now on the field recently which is a testament to his hard work and commitment to this summer experience.

Coming Up in the Independent Cup

Dakota Fusion face a road trip to Wauwatosa, WI to play Milwaukee Torrent (who play in the Gateway Conference of the NPSL) on Friday 19th.