The Heart of Lions

The Heart of Lions

The Dayton Dutch Lions Soccer Team End Fairy-Tale Season

By Kevin Kryston

Sometimes victory isn’t determined by the final score.

Simply by taking the field Tuesday, June 26 at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in Kansas City, the Dayton Dutch Lions made a statement to the American soccer world. The semi-professional team, currently in its third year of existence, managed to win four straight games against all odds in the US Open Cup tournament, proving that sometimes David can beat Goliath.

While the clock struck midnight on the Dutch Lions’ fairy tale in Kansas City after losing 3-0 to Sporting KC, Dayton certainly has no reason to hang their heads in disgust. After all, during their improbable run, they took down a top league Major League Soccer club and fought hard against another, showing the Dayton area the potential of a team that fights with the hearts of lions.

The Dutch Lions were founded in 2009 as a feeder club to FC Twente, one of the most successful professional teams in Holland. They started in the US Pro Development League, the fourth tier of United States leagues. The Dutch Lions were very competitive, finishing third in their inaugural season, and in 2011, they were promoted to the newly-formed USL Pro, the third tier league, which stands only behind the North American Soccer League and Major League Soccer in the American league system.

Playing their games at Miami Valley South Stadium, in Bellbrook, which is shared with Bellbrook High School, the Dutch Lions have found life in the USL Pro difficult. In 2011, they finished last of twelve teams and currently have only one win in league play in 2012.

This makes their success in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup all the more surprising. Dayton hadn’t won a game in their previous two chances in America’s oldest soccer tournament, but in 2012, things have changed. After winning their first two games of the tournament, Dayton found themselves travelling to Crew Stadium for a Third Round match-up with the Columbus Crew, the 2008 MLS Champions.

Needless to say, the odds were against Dayton. They were a third league team travelling to a difficult environment to play one of the MLS’ best teams. The Crew did not hold back either, playing many starters against the Dutch Lions. However, Dayton managed to shock American soccer, getting goals from Gerrit Jan Bartels and Gibson Bardsley in the last 15 minutes of the game, sending them to a 2-1 win to advance to the Fourth Round. Matt Girouard, a Dutch Lions fan who was at the game, called the experience “unreal.”

But there was still work to be done. The Fourth Round would also see the Dutch Lions hit the road, this time travelling to Pontiac, Mich. for a battle with the Michigan Bucks. One of the most ambitious lower-league teams in American soccer, the Bucks were enjoying great success in 2012. At the time, they were in first place in USPDL’s Great Lakes Division, and were fresh off beating the Chicago Fire of the MLS, who reached the Final of last year’s US Open Cup.

The game was an uphill battle for the Dutch Lions, despite getting an early goal from Thomas Garner. They were outshot almost three to one by Michigan, and were unable to keep the Bucks off the scoreboard. The first 90 minutes ended in a 1-1 tie, and game would need an extra 30 minutes to determine a winner.

In extra time, it was more of the same for the Lions, who had to withstand a barrage of pressure, but luck was on Dayton’s side. During one of their few offensive chances in extra time, a Michigan foul in the penalty area allowed Joel DeLass to score a late penalty kick, sending Dayton into the next round with a 2-1 win. Dutch Lions head coach, Iver van Dintren, believed his team “fought like Lions,” and “deserved to win the game,” after his team’s scrappy win.

Despite scoring only nine goals and winning eight points through 13 games of the 2012 USL Pro season, their cup run represents the possibilities the Dutch Lions have as a soccer club. Dayton has always been one of the best cities in America in supporting its sports teams. The University of Dayton’s basketball team has enjoyed huge crowds at the UD Arena, and was named “the Best Under-the-Radar Atmosphere” in 2012 by fan vote, and the Dayton Dragons hold the record for most consecutive sell-outs of any American sports franchise, breaking the previous record of 815 in the summer of 2011. With similar fan support, the Dutch Lions could continue to bolster their roster and advance forward to the top of the USL Pro League, and maybe even the NASL in the future, much like the Montreal Impact, Portland Timbers, and Vancouver Whitecaps, which were all recently promoted into the MLS despite spending many years in lower leagues.

Soccer may not be America’s favorite sport, but truly in the Dayton Dutch Lions, the city of Dayton has found a hard-working, “never say die” group with big ambitions. That’s something even the most uncultured of soccer fans can enjoy.

Reach DCP intern and freelance writer Kevin Kryston at KevinKryston@daytoncitypaper.com

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