Saturday night was a new experience for the Madison 56ers, in more ways than one.
They ventured to Cass Tech High School to take on Detroit City FC for the first time, getting their first exposure to the relentless and raucous Northern Guard supporters group.
And they suffered the worst loss in their 11-year history in the National Premier Soccer League, a 5-0 drubbing in front of a sellout crowd of 3,561 that ended their unbeaten start to the Midwest Region season.
Detroit City (3-1-1) moved to the top of the 13-team Midwest standings with 10 points, while the 56ers (2-1-1) are tied for third, three points back. The top four teams at the end of the regular season qualify for the regional playoffs.
"All you can do is take the criticisms, take the good stuff out of it, like you do from any game, and you hope that it doesn't depress you, that it makes you more motivated to do better," Madison coach Jim Launder said of the lopsided loss. "I said to them, 'Hey, if we do this right, we'll meet these guys again in the playoffs.' "
Things started well enough for the 56ers, who wanted to try to use their speed up front and on the flanks to create chances on the narrow Cass Tech pitch. They did that with leading scorer Drew Whalen, Romanian Lucian Pârvu and UW-Whitewater's Sam Novak (Milton), but didn't get any return on their efforts.
"We created a couple chances getting Drew wide, getting crosses in – Lucian missed one, Sam missed one, where we got a good cross in," Launder said.
"We were following the game plan, and we were actually forcing them to hit pretty random long balls that they couldn't put exactly where they wanted them, and we were able to win a lot of those, too. But we lost the battle in the midfield. We weren't winning second balls in the midfield, we weren't able to sustain an attack."
The home side scored twice in 9 minutes late in the first half to seize control.
Cyrus Saydee got the opener in the 32nd, finishing off a feed from James Murphy on the right side, firing past Madison goalkeeper Joe White at the near post. Eight minutes later, Tyler Channell went up and connected with a cross from Murphy – though replays showed the Detroit player actually knocked it in with his hand.
"I was 70 yards away and it really looked like a handball to me. But you don't want to say much (to the fourth official) when you're 70 yards away," said Launder, whose players much closer to the play protested the non-call to the referee to no avail.
Heading into the second half the 56ers tried to adjust their strategy.
"We said, 'Let's go out for 10 to 15 minutes and just press,' " Launder said. "We created a couple good chances, and when we didn't score they came down and scored that third one."
Englishman Will Mellors-Blair put the game away for Detroit City, the speedy Michigan striker scoring in the 66th and 73rd. And Matt Ybarra closed it out in the 90th as the 56ers allowed five goals for the first time in their 164 games, capping a busy night of flares and smoke billowing from the Northern Guard's section.
"They didn't stop yelling the whole time," Launder said. "They announced 3,500, but it felt like more like 7,500."
From the touchline
The 56ers have allowed four goals in a game four times since starting their NPSL team in 2005, most recently in a 4-2 loss to the Quad City Eagles on July 7, 2013. Their largest margin of defeat before Saturday was four, coming in 4-0 losses to Detroit Arsenal on July 17, 2005, and to the Chicago Fire NPSL team on June 21, 2009. ... Starting right back Brian Bultman (UW) couldn't make the trip because of a job interview. Jack Hagstrom (Middleton) shifted out to the spot from his usual spot at center back. ... Launder said forward-midfielder Josh Thiermann (Stoughton/UW) likely could have played, but he didn't travel to give his injured calf muscle another week to heal. ... Pârvu, who has been bothered by a hip flexor injury since arriving in Madison last month, started for the first time. "I think he's going to be a lot better coming into a game (as a sub) right now until he gets fully fit," Launder said of the veteran professional. ... Englishman Jordayne Henry, who figures to play left back or left midfielder, has been with the 56ers for the past week but wasn't cleared to play because the club is still awaiting his international transfer clearance. ... Launder said the Cass Tech field is approximately 58 yards wide – for comparison, the pitch at Breese Stevens Field is 76 yards wide. "(Detroit City is) very good, I think. I would love to play them on a bigger field," Launder said. ... The 56ers are scheduled to play at the Minnesota Twin Stars (0-3-1) on Friday night, but that match might be up in the air because the Twin Cities team is scrambling to find a new venue for its home matches. They've been playing at Mound Westonka High School in Minnetrista, but the stadium apparently is no longer available – they were forced to postpone last Friday's scheduled home game against Minnesota United FC Reserves.
June 6, 2015 NPSL Midwest Region match
At Cass Tech High School, Detroit, Mich. Att. – 3,561.
Detroit City FC – Cyrus Saydee (James Murphy) 32
Detroit City FC – Tyler Channell (James Murphy) 40
Detroit City FC – Will Mellors-Blair 66
Detroit City FC – Will Mellors-Blair (David Edwardson) 73
Detroit City FC – Matt Ybarra (Wade Allan) 90
DETROIT CITY FC: Bret Mollon, Josh Rogers, Tyler Channell (Alex Isaevski 68), Will Mellors-Blair (Wade Allan 74), Dave Edwardson (George Chomakov 80), Troy Watson, Cyrus Saydee (Matt Ybarra 77), James Murphy (Latif Alashe 75), Zach Schewee, Sebastian Harris, Andre Morris (Bennett Jull 77).
MADISON 56ERS: Joe White (Scott Sibik); Miguel Izquierdo, Felipe Mattar, Zacc Roelke, Jack Hagstrom; Taylor Pill (Driton Zyteja), Keenan Newallo, Lucian Pârvu (Ryan Shogren); Sam Novak (Tony Amolo), Drew Whalen, Jacob Scotte-Hatherly (Gideon Asante).