Lansing United Wins Michigan Milk Cup, Tops AFC Ann Arbor 3-2
Above: Pouna runs towards the stands
Stevee Pouna knew what he was about to do probably wasn’t a good idea. So did his coach, Nate Miller.
Still, after netting the eventual game-winning goal off his own saved penalty in the 89th minute, Pouna veered for the Sons of Ransom, hopping the fence and celebrating what seemed then to be the goal that put the game away.
“It was a dumb decision, but they (the fans) do so much for us,” Pouna said.
Pouna’s antics earned him a second yellow card, and a Lansing United team already down one man found itself with nine players for the remainder of extra time, but it wasn’t to be denied the honor of being Michigan’s best.
After a quick boost from Dajuan Jones’ first-half brace, Lansing United took a questionable red card, held Ann Arbor scoreless until the 87th minute and ultimately triumphed, 3-2, in the final of the Michigan Milk Cup — the tournament to decide who’s tops in Michigan — at Mason High School.
Lansing jumped out to a 2-0 margin barely 25 minutes into the game, thanks mainly to two clean services and Jones. The first goal came in the 21st minute when Jones got his head on the business end of a TK cross on the back post.
Less than five minutes later, TJ Ifaturoti roped a cross to Jones on the top of the 18-yard box. Jones took the cross, putting it in the net and Lansing up 2-0.
It seemed United had the match in hand, pushing it ever closer to a blowout, until Lansing’s Leroy Enzugusi and Ann Arbor’s Sercan Cihan both challenged for a loose ball.
“I never thought it was in the bag today,” Lansing United coach Nate Miller said.
Cihan began sliding to sweep the ball away from Enzugusi as he barreled forward, but they connected with the ball between their shins simultaneously.
A dull thud emanated and as Cihan writhed in pain, Enzugusi had already been shown red.
“He was late, maybe he wasn’t,” Pouna said. “… It was hard for us, but we kept going.”
Down to 10 players prior to halftime, Lansing United focused intensely. Postgame, Miller admitted it was better for Lansing to take the red before halftime rather than after, giving them a chance to make proper adjustments, he said.
“Those were 15 extremely important minutes,” Miller said. “Got organized, changed the game plan entirely.”
The officials were a theme from the red card on. It seemed neither side was pleased — calls were missed, not made or made when they shouldn’t have been — based on the complaints coaches and players could be heard barking at the refs.
Miller said he didn’t want to talk about the refs postgame, but implied that he was upset with the situation, and did mention that the Enzugusi foul wasn’t a red card is his opinion.
“We had a really good game going, it wasn’t a red card,” Miller said of the play.
“You guys know where I stand,” Miller continued.
And it was ultimately officials that helped Ann Arbor onto the score sheet with a penalty kick in the 87th minute. Farkas stepped up and beat Lansing keeper Anthony Mwembia, cutting the Mighty Oaks deficit in half.
Two minutes later, Pouna buried his saved penalty stretching the lead back. But getting sent off, he turned a Lansing United side that countered well and generated chances despite being down a man into a defensive machine.
With no options but to hunker down in two banks of four on defense, Lansing United seemed in a position to win easily still, up 3-1. But with two extra men, Ann Arbor earned another penalty and Farkas converted.
As the margin grew ever slimmer, Lansing’s coaches began imploring the refs from the sideline.
“How much stoppage time is left?” one asked. “End it already,” another said.
The already odd and intense game was pushing into farcical territory until three shrill whistles blasted and Lansing United had won.
Trophy in hand, they celebrated like any championship team does: take a team picture with the trophy, jump around with fans and shower their coach with chocolate milk (as opposed to the usual Gatorade).
But it could almost have slipped away.
Once the celebration died down, several Lansing United fans walked out of the stadium together.
“I know he shouldn’t have done it, but I’m glad Stevee came over to celebrate,” one said.
“And hey, we got a trophy, too,” replied another.