Friday night was all about three points for the Milwaukee Bavarians, not style points.
Justin Laird (Hartford) scored the game's lone goal in the 72nd minute, less than 10 minutes after coming on as a substitute, and college teammate Jacob Bye (Whitnall) posted his second clean sheet in as many matches as the host Bavarians blanked the Madison 56ers 1-0 in a National Premier Soccer League match in Glendale.
"It wasn't pretty, it was a little sloppy," Bavarians coach Craig Peltonen said after his team improved to 2-1-0 in Midwest Region Central Division play.
Good work by UW-Milwaukee midfielder Robbie Boyd (Milwaukee Marquette) and Marquette right back Adam Hermsen (Appleton North) led to Laird's winner.
Boyd tackled back to win a ball on the right flank, and Hermsen picked it up and went forward. He worked past several defenders – 56ers coach Jim Launder said two of them slipped – got to the endline and played a low, hard cross that Laird flicked past University of Wisconsin goalkeeper Max Jentsch (Hartland Arrowhead) at the near post.
It was the first of goal of the season for the Wright State striker.
Launder said the goal came just after his side had created several good scoring chances and "looked like we were controlling the game." But the counter-attacking goal was exactly what Peltonen was looking for.
"Our plan was to sit back and absorb a little bit, take away their deep threat," Peltonen said, referring to speedy 56ers forward Carlos McCrary. "We sat back a little bit and looked to counter on them."
Peltonen was thrilled with the performance of his backline, especially the new-look center back pairing of UW-Milwaukee's James Ashcroft and Drake's Jimmy Grunert (Muskego). They started in place of Michael Alfano (Marquette), sidelined because of a shoulder injury, and Northern Illinois' Dusty Page (Kettle Moraine Lutheran), who was in Detroit attending a college student-athlete leadership conference.
"They were outstanding," Peltonen said of Ashcroft and Grunert. "Our whole backline was tough. ... Our guys defended really well."
Still, they needed a little bit of help to see out the Bavarians' second shutout. Peltonen brought in Mercyhurst's Sam Dorf (Milwaukee Marquette) and dropped Milwaukee School of Engineering's Logan Andryk (Milwaukee Marquette) back, using two holding midfielders in front of the backline for the final 10 minutes.
"They were finding our inside back door in the center of midfield and exposing us there," Peltonen said. "(The moves) kind of stopped that and helped us clean some things up."
On the other side, Launder rued his team's inability to finish.
"We were missing," he said. "We were hitting maybe a soft one at their goalkeeper when we needed a hard one, he made some good saves, we hit some posts ... but didn't finish.
"Overall, we played a pretty good game. But like I told the guys, one moment where we lacked concentration and a good game gets wasted. And several moments where we weren't like sharks smelling blood in the penalty area.
"The axiom is you want to play well and if you create chances, things will come around. But we've got to find ways to make them pay when we create these chances. We can't keep letting them off the hook."
The 56ers (1-1-0) were without forwards Anthony Santaga (Green Bay Notre Dame) and Jed Hohlbein (Middleton/UW) and midfielder Claudiu Aionesei, who had a goal and two assists in the past two matches.
Santaga, who paired with McCrary last year to form a formidable strike partnership, will be out at least another week with an ankle/Achilles problem. Hohlbein, the team's all-time leading scorer, was resting a sore hamstring.
"We could have used (Santaga), big-time. And then Jed is out with a little hammy, so we didn't have either of our holding center forwards," said Launder, who was hopeful that Hohlbein would be able to play Sunday's road game against the Minnesota Twin Stars.
Aionesei suffered a sprained ankle at training during the week. And UWM midfielder Patrick Ruhland (Mount Horeb) started, but was subbed out in the second half due to injury – his replacement, Dominic O'Connor, beat Bye to a ball but his ensuing shot was over the crossbar.
Both teams have important road matches at 4 p.m. Sunday.
The Bavarians travel to Riverdale, Iowa, to face the division-leading Quad City Eagles (5-0-0), who used three second-half goals to post a surprising 3-0 victory in Milwaukee's home opener two weeks ago.
"(Friday's win) gives us some confidence, especially going into Quad City on Sunday," said Peltonen, who was asked if his team would have added motivation for the match. "We sure hope so. We know what they're about, I don't know if we'll see a whole lot different from them. We hope to bring something different, not necessarily players, but in determination, ability to battle and just energy level."
Meanwhile, the 56ers' game against the Twin Stars (0-3-0) – who rallied from a two-goal, second-half deficit against Quad City on Saturday only to allow a stoppage-time game-winner in a 3-2 loss – is huge if Madison hopes to repeat as Central Division champions.
"Yeah, it raises the stakes on Sunday, big-time," Launder acknowledged.
MILWAUKEE BAVARIANS: Jacob Bye; Luke Davey, Jimmy Grunert, James Ashcroft, Adam Hermsen; Sam Krenzien (Sam Dorf); Sebastian Jansson, Logan Andryk, Riley Weiner, Aaron Horvat (Robbie Boyd); Chris Madsen (Justin Laird).
MADISON 56ERS: Max Jentsch; Chris Brown, Matt Balshaw, Andrew Stone, Carl Schneider; Derek Pitts, Luke Goodnetter, Jack Keeling (Keenan Newallo), Patrick Ruhland (Dominic O'Connor); Carlos McCrary, Sam Etim (Jade Johnson).