A view from my side.
Our season officially came to a close last night. Playing our cross town rival in a hard-fought, physical match, we found ourselves on the losing side of a 2-1 score. While we were tactically the better side, their size, speed and strength were too much for us to handle. The officiating, as is often the case in the post season, was loose. The ref “let the boys play” as the saying goes. And while we tried to give as well as we got, sophomores and freshmen going up against mostly juniors and seniors proved too difficult in the end.
Not that we didn’t give it our best. We were able to control the ball much of the first half, maintaining a possession advantage and taking more shots on goal. Their keeper has bricks for hands and will, I believe, be their ultimate undoing as they progress in the playoffs. On one shot, we followed, he bobbled it, and one of our strikers was able to finish. We had beaten this team earlier in the year, we knew we could do it and we had been successful at shutting down their largest threat. The pace of the game was swift and the substitutions few. The final 45 seconds of the first half were brutal, filled with uncalled fouls on both sides as the boys pushed the officiating.
Both coaching staffs had words with the refs at halftime and promises were made to tighten the match. The halftime discussion focused on maintaining our marks and continuing to shut down their star player, a central attacking midfielder. Their plan, which has served them well all season, is to play their loan striker’s feet, who will hold the ball and then drop it to the midfielders rushing on. In the melee that follows, their star mid fielder is often able to free himself up, find the ball and get off a shot.
True to form, they came out working that very plan and we were able to thwart the effort. But, as I often tell our strikers, “the defender has to beat you every time…you only have to beat him once.” Bringing the ball up the middle of the field, they found their midfielder unmarked at the top of the box. He won the ball and got off a shot, tying the match early in the second half. A few short minutes later, their striker beat 3 of our players and fired off a shot, hitting the far post, sending the ball straight their star midfielder’s foot. He took a touch and passed it into the net for the go ahead goal. At that point, they went defensive and held us off.
We had our chances and could have tied, even won the match. Two balls crossed the face of the goal and our midfielders were literally inches shy of tapping them in. In the final seconds, we had a corner kick and brought every player to bear, even our keeper was in their box, in an attempt to tie. But it was not to be. The whistle blew and we were done.
Over the course of the season we had defeated 2 teams that were ranked #1 at the time. We won our Metro Tournament. We avenged losses from the previous season. But most importantly, we grew as a group and as a team. We will graduate only 1 senior starter. We will return 9 starters who were either a freshman or a sophomore this year. We had 4 players that were ineligible this season who will be able to play next year. We ended our season as Metro Tournament Champions with an overall record of 15-5-2. We end our season knowing what we can do and looking forward to next year. And despite the early end…we left the field confident and excited.