On a sweltering Saturday afternoon at Uihlein Soccer Park, the Milwaukee Torrent blazed past the Minnesota TwinStars, 5-0, in the home opener of its inaugural season.
With the temperature in the 90s – even higher on the artificial turf of KOHLER Engines Stadium – and with tempers flaring due to an ugly off-field incident, the Torrent capitalized on a man advantage and poured in four second-half goals to notch its third win in three matches.
Head coach and owner Andreas Davi said he was pleased with not only the play on the field, but also the turnout and atmosphere in the stands.
"You’re happy with everyone who shows up," he said. "Nobody else is doing this in Milwaukee. It was just amazing, unbelievable, all the support. It’s a start."
With more than 650 fans in attendance for the initial home game, the Torrent, Milwaukee’s only professional soccer team and its first since 2004, gave them plenty to cheer about.
Forward James Weber scored the only goal of the first half, a patient, one-man effort where he collected the ball along the right end line in the box and, with no offensive support, blasted it into the upper corner of the net for his first tally.
While the Torrent held much of the possession against the TwinStars, who it beat in Minnesota on May 21 in its season opener, the hosts couldn’t break through again in that half. Center back Drew Ruggles, a poised former USL player who won a championship with the Rochester Rhinos last year, was rugged and dominant in defense, a forceful winner of balls in the air and a precise long passer who showed his higher-level experience throughout the contest.
Minnesota midfielders Karim Darbaki and Ahmed Osman were dangerous in attack, displaying flashes of trickery and creativity with the ball. But, aside from a scorching shot that was saved off the post by Torrent goalkeeper Nick Barry, the TwinStars didn’t create many chances.
Because of the heat, there were two referee-mandated and much-needed water breaks before halftime, when Milwaukee went to the locker room with a 1-0 lead.
Almost immediately in the second half, though, the Torrent opened the flood gates. Davi, who the day before had expressed reluctance to do much substituting, inserted Ian Bennett, an electric indoor star for the Wave, on the left wing, and the move quickly paid dividends.
Just minutes into the half, Bennett got the ball in the box and sent a shot toward goal that struck TwinStars defender Bill Baye on the arm, resulting in a red card for Baye and a penalty kick for the Torrent. Midfielder Declan Rodriguez calmly converted the penalty, putting it into the left side netting for his second goal and a 2-0 lead.
In the 57th minute, Bennett got his first goal on a beautiful bit of combination play – and chemistry – between him and Weber. After defender Chris Kurth let the ball go through with a savvy dummy move, Weber got it at midfield, took a few touches and played a perfectly weighted pass to the on-running Bennett, who brought it into the box and unleashed a powerful strike to the near post for his first score.
In the 62nd minute, emotion overcame the TwinStars and their anger boiled over during a strange and chaotic episode. Several players angrily said something to the referee and then Minnesota head coach Youssef Darbaki told all of his players to get off the field, audibly saying, "We’re leaving." There was a heated confrontation between both teams and the referees in front of the scorer’s table at midfield, with some shoving and lots of shouting.
After the game, Darbaki claimed Torrent fans behind his team’s goal had shouted racial slurs at the TwinStars, including comments that brought one player to tears.
Following several frenzied minutes – including Milwaukee players applauding their supporters as though the game was over, and then Davi yelling at fans to get away from the fences around the field and sit down – play resumed.
Not long after, Ruggles received a yellow card for an overzealous challenge and was subbed out. Davi said after the game that he changed his mind about using reserves because of the heat and the scoring margin.
In the 77th minute, super-sub Bennett got his brace, taking a cheeky flick-touch from Weber, sprinting into the box and slotting it into the far corner for a 4-0 Torrent edge.
"It’s what I expected because you just know the quality of the players we have," Davi said of his team’s performance.
Soon after, hungry for his hat trick, Bennett rocketed a shot off the underside of the crossbar. With the TwinStars appearing utterly disheartened, Milwaukee, which had since subbed in more players, added a final score, created and unselfishly bequeathed by Bennett.
In the 84th minute, defender Logan Fye sent a long pass up the right sideline, Bennett claimed the loose ball and carried it into the box. A heavy touch on a cutback sent the ball too far from his reach – and potentially onto his un-favored left foot – so he left it for substitute midfielder Ignacio Baeza, who coolly one-timed it into the back of the net.
"I’m a righty; the left works, too," Bennett said afterward with a laugh. "But it’s always good to share."
After a diving Barry save in the 87th minute preserved the shutout, the Torrent had a 5-0 victory in its home opener and a firm hold on first place in the NPSL Central Conference.
"It was kind of hard to come in with any expectations," said Ruggles, who signed just days before the Torrent’s first match three weeks ago. "But now, three games in, expectations are high, standards are high."
Bennett, a charismatic fan favorite with the Wave, said he was impressed, too, with the showing by Torrent supporters.
"They came out in this heat for a mid-day game; I’m not going to lie, I didn’t expect to see this many people," he said. "It was a great atmosphere."
Milwaukee’s next game is July 2 against LC Aris FC in La Crosse.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.