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In Their Own Words: Putting Out the Fire

By Staff, 04/12/22, 12:59PM EDT


Ten years ago, Flint City Bucks defeated an MLS team. Today, they talk about it.

Ten years ago, Flint City Bucks (then named Michigan Bucks) played host to MLS side Chicago Fire in the Third Round of the 2012 Lamar Hunt Open Cup.

The Bucks had already played spoiler to professional teams before – but at the Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Pontiac, Mich., the hosts did the unthinkable. They eliminated four-time Open Cup champions Chicago Fire to advance to the round of 32.  

Three people that were there that day: Bucks owner Dan Duggan, then-head coach Gary Parsons and forward Zach Steinberger all played significant roles in the Cupset. Ten years later, they sit down to recollect every moment of the game that still holds up as the farthest a League Two side has advanced in the national tournament. 

Zach Steinberger: I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. Maybe it feels like a couple years ago, but definitely not 10. That’s crazy to think. 

Dan Duggan: It feels like 30. It seems like a long, long time ago, with the pandemic in between, it seems like everything’s just been a lot longer. Those were good days, and exciting days, and we hope they come around again. 

Gary Parsons: When you’re 70 years old, everything feels like yesterday, but your body says different. 

1 hour before kickoff: Starting lineups announced. 

Chicago Fire: Paolo Tonaghi; Tony Walls, Jalil Anibaba, Austin Berry, Hunter Jumper; Michael Videira, Daniel Paladini (c), Corben Bone; Rafael Robayo; Federico Puppo, Orr Barouch 

Michigan Bucks: Adam Grinwis; Kevin Cope, Seby Harris, Chad Barson, Stew Givens; Nate Boyden, Scott Caldwell, Tommy Catalano, Simon Omekanda; Nermin Crnkic, Kenny Uzoigwe 

GP: That was a very good team we had that year. We almost went undefeated that summer. I had Simon [Omekanda] and Nate [Boyden] in the middle of my midfield. Both of them were ex-pros, pushing 30 years old. So from a standpoint of maturity, they kept those guys on an even keel, and those guys weren’t afraid of people. The guys were not afraid of that game at all. They were looking forward to it. I didn’t have to do much motivating.

DD: Eight of those 18 that were on the roster were college players that ended up playing in MLS. It was a very, very talented roster. 

ZS: I can’t believe Corben Bone and Jalil Anibaba were on the field at the time. I didn’t even remember. I’ve played with Jalil in Houston, and I didn’t even know I played against him before. I didn’t start, this was my first year with the Bucks. I came into the team with some of the best players I’ve ever played with in my career. So I was just grateful to be on the team at the time. I wasn’t really worried, because I thought I’d be sitting on the bench. 

GOAL 9’: Tommy Catalano scores as Hunter Jumper slips trying to challenge him. MICH 1-0 CHI 

ZS: I remember us scoring the first goal and thinking “Holy crap, we’re going to pull off something incredible here.” I knew we had pulled off an upset once before and I remember Double D [Dan Duggan] and Gary talking about that and talking about the possibility of recreating something like that. 

The two teams clash in the Fire six-yard box during their game. Photo provided by Dan Duggan.

DD: The place, Ultimate Soccer, it holds 1,650 people and we packed in 2,000 with people behind the bleachers. With the roof on it, it was incredibly loud from the very beginning. When Tommy scored that goal, that place went absolutely bonkers. 

GP: You couldn’t communicate with the players unless they were right there. If they weren’t on the side where the benches were on, you just had to let the guys play. You couldn’t get any word out to them, it was so loud in there. And when we scored right away, it was louder than loud. 

DD: The stands were only three yards off the field, so Tommy was right there in the mix when he scored, and that set the tone for the crowd, who just absolutely went crazy, and of course the players fed off of that as well. That was a really great moment. 

GOAL 28’: Corben Bone scores his first professional goal after a throw-in for Chicago Fire. MICH 1 – 1 CHI. 

ZS: Wow. It’s just so funny, Jalil Anibaba and Corben Bone and Austin Berry are guys that I’ve played against, shared locker rooms with. I’m sure that’s one of a thousand games where I didn’t realize I had a prior or future teammate on the other side. It’s really interesting how small the soccer world is, where his story could start at the same time as mine. 

SUBSTITUTION 35’: Zach Steinberger is substituted in for League Two legend Kenny Uzoigwe, one of the top scorers in League Two history. 

DD: Kenny was an absolute legend. 94 goals in League Two is incredible. Helped us win national championships, and Gary subbed him for Zach Steinberger, who was a freshman at Butler. Zach was a terror, and making that decision shocked a lot of people. But they were marking Kenny out of the game, because he was a big, 6’4 striker. 

GP: We always used Zach in that way. He had great energy coming off the bench. We figured we were going to go to him, we just didn’t know we were going to go to him that quickly. 

ZS: I just remember I was a cocky little 19-year-old who thought I was the best. I had just come off this great freshman season, I felt as if I was one of the better guys on this Bucks team, so I don’t remember feeling nervous, which is weird to say. I remember once I got on the field, just thinking that this was really cool being able to play against an MLS team. 

Halftime: MICH 1-1 CHI 

Gary Parsons speaks to news media. Photo provided by Dan Duggan.

ZS: I think I have a tendency to black out during games. I’m finding that out about myself. I remember all I wanted was to put on a show for a professional team. 

GP: I think from our standpoint of the team, we thought it was going quite well. It was halftime, we’ve got a 1-1 game, we’re playing quite well. We had to understand that they were going to come out and play better, because I’m sure the same words aren’t being said in our halftime as theirs. 

DD: You knew this side was a professional side. They were better than us, and you saw we kind of woke them up. 

GOAL 51’: An errant pass gets picked off by Corben Bone, who feeds it ahead to Federico Puppo. MICH 1 – 2 CHI 

DD: Of course, I knew the level of players, and I knew Gary and what we could do. But being down 2-1, getting those two goals scored on either side of halftime, it gave the fans some nervousness for sure. In my mind, though, I said that if we get the second goal, we’re getting the third goal. 

GP: You don’t really get nervous when you’re on the bench there, you just want to help. But in that game, it was hard to help, because it was hard to get information out to the players. You had to just focus on what moves you were going to make from a standpoint of getting fresh legs into the game. 

GOAL 79’: A ball is whipped in from the left by Nermin Crnkic, finished off at the back post with a header from Nate Boyden. MICH 2 – 2 CHI 

GP: That goal tells you what a smart player Nate Boyden is. Nate played the number 6 role on our team, the holding central midfielder. It was Zach [Steinberger] who was playing on the right wing at that time. He’s an anxious young player, and he made a run through the box, wanting that ball. What he did, though, was he ran through the box and got to the near post before the ball was even delivered. I’ve never seen him run so fast. He ended up pulling in the wide defender, and he got sucked into the middle trying to chase Zach through the box, and Nate saw that. He circled around the back where the space was at the back post, and was all alone to head it in. 

DD: This was a metal building that was overfilled with human beings in a small area that were yelling as loud as they could. It was incredible. 

ZS: This is one of the moments that I really remember in the game, from that second half. My adrenaline was just at an all-time high. I don’t remember the build-up play, I don’t even remember the ball coming in. But man, I remember celebrating. I remember Double D being in the corner, the whole crowd erupting, and all of us just running to him and jumping into his arms. Complete pandemonium. It’s one of the best feelings ever. 

DD: I was right there in the corner celebrating with all the guys, I think I knocked over a bunch of drinks. I just happened to be at that end. It was pretty exciting. 

FT: MICH 2 – 2 CHI. 30 more minutes to try and do the impossible. 

DD: I knew we could get something going here. I was sure of it. 

GP: I love telling a story about Nermin [Crnkic] about this game. Nermin was a 19-year-old kid in our academy. And I figured he could make the transition to come help out the Bucks. He came from across the state, he lived in Grand Rapids, born in Bosnia. When he came to practice and games, before we even got halfway through the season, we thought this kid was going to be a starter. 

ZS: That kid was so funny. I remember he came in that year, hotshot kid, and we’d all been living at the Bucks housing, grinding through the season. He’d come to practice like once, show up for game time, and he was so talented. So fast. So skillful. Just brought an element that nobody else could. I actually saw Nermin again while I was with Houston like five or six years after that, and we started talking about this game, actually. 

GP: He said to me before the game, and I can’t remember how he said it, he came up to me. And he was always a cocky kid, he came up to me and said “Hey coach, don’t worry about it, we got this game. I’m going to score a goal tonight, and we’re going to win.” I just told him that was good, get out and let’s go. So they’re coming off the field after full time, and the game’s tied, and Nermin’s coming off. I just said “Hey, Nermin, come here. I thought you told me you were going to score tonight, what the heck is going on?” He told me not to worry, that he’s got it. I said “You better, because you promised me you were going to.”

Nermin Crnkic attacks the defense in a game against Chicago Fire. Photo provided by Dan Duggan.

GOAL 93’: Nermin Crnkic creates space on the left side and powers a back post strike into the net. MICH 3 – 2 CHI 

GP: Yeah, he let me hear about it. 

ZS: I love Nermin. 

GP: I’ll tell you what I remember. Kenny Uzoigwe almost broke my back. He came over to me and gave me a big bear hug, and went to lift me up, but he was standing on my feet! When he went to lift me up, he about stretched my back out. But Nermin was bragging about that goal after the game, there’s no question about it. “I told you I was going to score! I told you I was,” he kept saying. 

Nermin Crnkic scores the game-winning goal against Chicago Fire. Photo provided by Dan Duggan.

Flint City has to hold on for 27 more minutes. 

DD: I’ve had a lot of anxious half-hours in soccer. For sure. That one has to be up in the top 2 or 3. I never thought it was going to end. I loved that we didn’t sit back and wait for the inevitable to happen, we kept taking it to them. Zach kept running up the wing and they didn’t just kick the ball, they took it and made guys chase them. 

GP: Eternity. It felt like eternity. When you’re losing and you look at the clock, it’s going by faster than can be. When you’re winning, you look at the clock and it’s just going tick. tick. tick.

I didn’t want to look at the clock because it would only make me disappointed that more time hadn’t passed. 

ZS: I did everything I could, whenever I got the ball, to connect my pass or run past my guy, or stop my guy from running by me, and I just wanted to give us the best chance to win. 

FT (AET): MICH 3 – 2 CHI 

ZS: I do remember after, I remember seeing that my mom had come up to the game, my girlfriend came up to the game and I remember celebrating with them, and being in complete shock, like “what just happened?” 

GP: That night, we weren’t even thinking about the next round. It was just euphoria for everybody. That night, we were just going to celebrate what we had accomplished. 

DD: Tony Walls, who played for Chicago Fire in that game, had played for us a few years earlier. He told us that he tried to tell his teammates to take us seriously, since he used to be part of this organization. We talked to Tony after the game, he said “I warned them, I promise I did,” and just kind of laughed. 

ZS: That’s a Mount Rushmore game for me. To this day, I love the Bucks so much and I would do anything for them. The last time I was in Michigan, we were lifting up the League Two trophy after winning the championship. It’s on my short list of places to get back to. It’s exciting for other people to try and recreate what we did, to try to enjoy some of those moments. I would not be upset if a League Two team advanced farther than us, because of how amazing of an experience that was.

Adam Grinwis is lifted into the air by a Bucks teammate as the final whistle blows. Photo provided by Dan Duggan.

The Third Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup will take place from April 19-21. NC Fusion U-23 and FC Motown will be trying to chase down Flint City’s historic record as they each take on professional sides. NC Fusion U-23 will be taking on USL League One’s Richmond Kickers, while FC Motown will play MLS Next Pro’s Rochester New York FC. A League Two side has yet to see an MLS opponent in this year’s tournament. 

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