MUSKEGON – The last time the Muskegon Risers played a close, dramatic game at home, they had to do it without injured leading scorer Miguel Flores, and ended up losing a heartbreaker in last season’s Major Arena Soccer League 2 playoff semifinals.
But Flores was feeling just fine on Saturday night when the Risers needed him to save the day in their 2022-23 home opener, and he came through with the same dramatic flair that fans have come to expect.
Flores scored the game-winner just 18 seconds into overtime, giving the Risers a dramatic 8-7 come-from-behind victory over the Iowa Demon Hawks at Muskegon’s Trinity Health Arena.
It was Flores’ second goal of the game and third of the season, and he was very excited to be back in his element, scoring huge goals for his hometown team.
“I had a flashback to last year’s Cincinatti game,” said Flores, who scored an OT winner in that game, as well. “This is what my team needs me to do in the big moments. They trust me with the ball, the least I can do is put it in the net.
“This is my way to give back. It was a struggle to get healthy again, and I wanted to make sure I was ready for this season so we can put on a show for the home fans.”
The overtime goal capped a dramatic comeback victory for the Risers, who trailed 6-2 early in the second half, then rallied by scoring six of the last seven goals to literally steal the victor8y.
The win provided a measure of revenge for the Risers, who lost to the Demon Hawks a week ago in Iowa in their first game of the season.
The victory also provided some much-needed relief for first-year Risers head coach Michael Vollmer, who was 0-3 behind the bench leading into Saturday’s game.
Vollmer was the fill-in coach for the playoff semifinal loss last season, was named the full-time head coach in the offseason, then lost his first two games of the new season last weekend in Iowa.
“I guess I was 0-3, then knowing this one was going to be tough, then at halftime being down,” said a very relieved and happy Vollmer. “We knew we were a lot better in first half of this game than either game last weekend. We knew we were getting closer. It was just a matter of finishing some chances.”
The Risers are now 1-2 on the season. They will play again on Dec. 29 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in their third early-season matchup with the Demon Hawks. Their next home game will be Jan. 6.
The first half went about as badly as it could for the Risers. Iowa scored the only goal of the first period and the first two of the second to take a 3-0 lead.
Muskegon got on the board when Cesar Alayo found the net at 5:22 of the second period, making the score 3-1.
Iowa added a goal at 9:55 of the second, the Risers answered with a tally by Aldony Mendez at 11:54, then the Demon Hawks capped off the first half with another goal to take a 5-2 halftime lead.
The situation looked even more bleak in the third period when Iowa scored at the 7:51 mark and had a big 6-2 advantage.
But the Risers stunned the visitors by pulling themselves together and mounting a wildly successful counterattack.
Kyle Crain scored his first goal of the game for Muskegon at 8:25 of the third period, Moses Crawford added another less than a minute later, and the score was 6-4 heading into the fourth period.
Flores scored on a power play at 5:49 of the fourth, then Crain tied the score with his second goal about five minutes later.
The Risers looked like they might win in regulation when Henry Spees put the ball in the net with two minutes left on the clock, giving Muskegon a 7-6 lead. But Iowa tied the game with a dramatic goal with 20 seconds remaining, second the game to sudden death.
That came quickly when Flores scored from the right of the Demon Hawks’ net with only 18 seconds gone in OT, sending the Risers and the fans into a frenzy.
The two second half goals were clearly a relief for Flores, who had several shots sail high over the goal in the first half.
“It was a little frustrating, but I can’t stop shooting,” he said. “I think I was just getting too much under the ball.”
Coach Vollmer is just grateful that Flores was around to get the big goals when he did.