Since the beginning of its inaugural season, Lansing Ignite FC has been a tough opponent, turning in countless strong performances and earning crucial points on the road and at home. While its faced obstacles on the road against teams like North Texas SC and Toronto FC II, its home matches have been nothing short of unforgettable.
Its recent match against Forward Madison FC was no different, with a bicycle kick by Elma Nfor in the first half and two impressive goals by Rafa Mentzingen and Alex Bruce just seconds before the final whistle, LIFC earned three points, advanced to third place and solidified itself as a strong contender for the playoffs.
Winning home matches has become the norm for LIFC, which possesses a 4-1-2 record at home.
“We’re comfortable here,” LIFC captain Brandon Fricke said. “We know how to utilize our pitch, and we’re kind of in a groove right now.”
With the first half of the season behind the team, points earned in the next 11 games of the regular season are crucial if LIFC wants to continue its journey to the playoffs. Peak performances against the likes of Orlando City B and the Richmond Kickers put the team in a comfortable position to secure a playoff spot, but a difficult schedule lies ahead, as LIFC prepares to face four different teams that either hold a playoff spot or aren’t too far behind.
“Right now, we’re in a stretch where we have four teams we’re playing in a row that are right there chasing us, so it’s our job to keep them down, try to pick them off one by one and make their job a lot harder,” said LIFC Head Coach Nate Miller.
There’s a lot of pressure to perform well at Cooley Law School Stadium.
“The away games are so hard in this league, so how we perform at home is crucial,” Miller said. “This Tucson game, they’re on a stretch coming up with a lot of away games, and we’re the first one, so I think everyone in our league is approaching a really crucial stretch.”
Saturday’s match against FC Tucson is the second meeting between these teams. LIFC has come a long way since that first meeting, in which it recorded more possession (66.4 percent), more passes (614) and more shots on target (6) but came away with the loss and a 2-3-0 record. Besides possessing a different mentality and newfound confidence, stronger bonds have united the team.
“It’s a great group,” Fricke said. “We got a lot of young guys and we really have come together because of that. A lot of first-year guys, guys that really are pushing to show what they can do. When you have a lot of guys that are hungry like that and it comes together, you create some bonds that are pretty special, and we hope to use that on the field and off the field.”
For LIFC, substitutes and a different lineup have changed the outcome of numerous games, like Bruce and Mentzingen, who were substituted in the 72nd and 82nd minute, respectively, during the match against Forward Madison FC on Tuesday. Another example is Pato Botello Faz, who was substituted on in the 65th minute of the June 29 match against North Texas SC and scored his first professional goal and LIFC’s only goal that match.
As LIFC has faced unexpected challenges throughout the season, like the absence of two starting centerbacks in the July 9 match, in what Miller called a “bizarre situation,” he has relied on these players to rise to the occasion and provide depth where needed.
A change in shape has led the team to victory numerous times before, and the players will rely on Miller’s vision once more to defeat FC Tucson and earn three points.
“I think we just have to put forth consistent performances,” Nfor said. “We believe in what the coach wants us to do, we have good enough quality players to make it happen; it’s just time to go out and execute.”