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Steel City men settle for 3-3 draw as Nick Graeca hat trick not enough vs stubborn 10-man Michigan

Photo courtesy Randy Warner (Steel City FC)

Steel City FC men’s team tussled with Michigan Rangers in a match that ended in a 3-3 draw on at Founders Field in Cheswick on Sunday afternoon.

In a match that included a first half red card for the visitors and a hat trick from Nick Graeca, Steel City FC couldn’t pull away from stubborn Michigan side, resulting in a high scoring draw that keeps them unbeaten in NPSL Great Lakes Conference with one regular season match to go.

“Obviously we are disappointed with the result being up a man and up a goal, but Michigan is a great team and gave us a battle,” Steel City FC Head Coach Dan Brower said following the match.

“Regardless, I am pleased with our team’s ability to work together and so glad we could put on a show for our supporters at home.”

Steel City began the match on the front foot, setting up a number of set pieces.

In the 24th minute, they would capitalize on a cross converted by Graeca’s first goal, which emanated from a cross on the left side, as the loose ball resulted in a second shot opportunity finish on the edge of the goal box.

“We were really pleased with our start today. The guys created some good looks from both the run of play and with our quality deliveries especially from our early set pieces, Brower explained.

“Our opening goal in the 24th min was well worked. Some really good running off the ball from all of our lines and we showed some much needed composure inside the box. We were able to stay with the initial shot and pounce on the rebound for a much deserved lead.”

Steel City continued to pour the pressure into the box as they remained ell in control of the match, however, a wild flurry of events would alter the match.

The host would end up finding themselves in a level match, with Michigan getting the equalizer shortly after they would also have a man sent off in the 40th minute.

Steel City responded to take the lead right before the half, as Graeca (Dubios/John Carroll) found the back of the net again, this time converting a corner from Anders Bordoy (Kiski Area/Memphis) at the front post with a glancing header.

“We unfortunately switched off and conceded almost immediately after Michigan went down a man. The guys know that we’ll need to improve on our concentration levels and defend the aerial service a lot better. Some things to definitely work on,” Brower added.

“We were fortunate to get into halftime with the lead though. I thought we could turn the screws a bit more but the conditions definitely played a factor and Michigan played pretty direct in the 2nd half. We weren’t able to gain control of the match like we wanted to and the game got choppy.

At the start of the second half, the match remained evenly played but disjointed play that the Rangers pushing with a direct play that included a lot of long balls, one that would break through for the equalizer.

Playing with a man advantage, Steel City came storming back to retake the lead in the 75th minute, when Nathan Prex (Seneca Valley/Lebanon Valley)  was taken down in the box to earn a penalty.

Going with the hot hand — it was Graeca who converted his spot kick to complete the hat trick

In the dying minutes of the match, remarkably, the 10-man Michigan side found a chance in the box to earn their own penalty chance, which would be converted, as the match would end in a 3-3 draw.

Photo Courtesy Randy Warner (Steel City FC)

“We could have definitely taken more advantage of the numbers up situation – more learning opportunities for staff and players, all good. We’ll continue to look to improve our build and patience in our final move,” Brower said.

With a second straight draw, Steel City (6w-0l-3d) is now tied a the top of the standings as a late season push coming from Akron City (7w-0l-2d) has made things very interesting with one match remaining for each side in the regular season.

“Even though the tie can feel like a lost opportunity, the facts are that the guys have put themselves in a great position to win the regular season and gain the #1 seed for the Conference Playoffs with a win at home next Saturday vs Niagara,” Brower exclaimed.

“Their hard work is paying off and I couldn’t be more proud of this group of guys.”

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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