When his players show up ready to play, Todd Myers is confident the Indiana boys’ soccer team can compete with just about anyone in the WPIAL Class AA ranks.
Problem is, the Indians don’t always bring their best game, and it proved costly Thursday night.
Mount Pleasant scored twice in a four-minute stretch spanning the end of the first half and the start of the second half and held off Indiana’s late charge to beat the Indians, 2-1, in a WPIAL Section 1-AA match at Andy Kuzneski Field.
Mount Pleasant completed a two-game season sweep of the Indians (10-3, 5-3 section), dropping them into third place in the section standings. The top three teams in each of the six sections in Class AA make the playoffs.
The half-hearted effort didn’t sit well with Myers, and he let his players know about it after the game, holding a longer-than-usual post-game meeting.
“Basically questioning how our guys play when they want to play soccer,” Myers said of the meeting. “They don’t necessarily show up ready to play or think that it’s going to be a game that they can just come out and do their thing, knock the ball around.
“I complimented them on the last 20-25 minutes, and told them that at that point, they realized they wanted to start playing, and in my opinion, they started dominating. So that’s basically what the talk was about, when they want to do it, they can play against anybody, but it’s just a matter of wanting to do it.”
The Indians looked like they wanted to do it in the final 20 minutes, but Mount Pleasant hung on behind some clutch saves from goalie Robbie Bailey.
“My hat’s off to their keeper,” Myers said. “He made some phenomenal saves to keep them in the game.”
“I’m glad we have him for two more years after this,” Mount Pleasant coach Floyd Snyder said.
The Vikings reached the magic number of two goals, which has proven to be the winning formula to beat Indiana this season.
The Indians are 10-0 when allowing one or no goals, but they are 0-3 when allowing two or more goals, including 0-2 against Mount Pleasant. The Vikings completed the season sweep on the Indians’ turf after beating them 3-2 at home in the first week of the regular season.
“Our boys just get up to play them,” Snyder said. “I wish we played everybody in the section like them. We wouldn’t have three losses over our head, either. They just go hard, and they match up well against us. Some teams you just play better against.”
“Playing against that team is always rough,” said Indiana’s David Zimmerman, who scored the Indians’ lone goal. “We’ve been looking forward to this game for a while now. We wanted to win more than anything, and it’s just rough to lose by one goal.
“We talked long and hard about it. We played well in the last 20, 25 minutes, but we just wish we could have played hard the whole game. We waited too long to get going.”
The Vikings scored in the final minute of the first half to take the momentum into the halftime break.
Matt Johnson beat Indiana goalie Corey Denlinger to the ball on a corner kick cross and buried a header in the back of the net a split second before Denlinger could get to it.
Less than three minutes into the second half, an Indiana defender was called for an intentional hand ball inside the goalie box, and Alex Temple buried the ensuing penalty kick to give Mount Pleasant a 2-0 lead with 37:46 to play.
Indiana seemed to pick up the intensity with about 20 minutes to play. The Indians had four scoring opportunities in a five-minute stretch before Zimmerman finally got them on the board.
With about 17 minutes to play, Cole Rosenberger carried the ball into the goalie box and dribbled across the box looking for a shooting lane, but never got off a shot. Less than a minute later, Rosenberger delivered a perfect cross into the box, but Jem Bailey-Orchard missed wide left with his header.
After a couple more chances, Indiana was awarded a free kick from just outside the goalie box with 12 minutes to play, and Rosenberger’s free kick resulted in a corner kick for the Indians. In the scramble after the corner kick, Zimmerman came up with the ball and scored to cut Indiana’s deficit in half with 11:23 to play.
“That last 20, 25 minutes, that was really fun soccer fan to watch,” Myers said. “Even if you’re not a soccer fan, you’re going to love that last 20, 25 minutes. But you can’t play 20 minutes out of 80 and expect to win. That’s basically the message we sent to them.”
Indiana threatened the Vikings’ goal often and early to start the game, but the Indians had nothing to show for it.
Zimmerman and Rosenberger, the Indians’ two leading scorers, each had a scoring chance in the first 10 minutes of the game but couldn’t capitalize. Then, with 15 minutes left in the first half, Zimmerman delivered a timely cross, and Rosenberger timed the header perfectly, drilling it low in the right corner. But Mount Pleasant goalie Bailey made a diving save, and that’s when the frustration set in for the Indians.
“I think in the first half, both teams had their opportunities, and we’ve squandered opportunities all year long,” Myers said. “We could have put two in early on in the game and set the tone for the game, but we didn’t. I think our guys get frustrated, and we don’t play as well when we’re frustrated. I think we got frustrated by not scoring those goals.”
After taking a 2-0 lead, Mount Pleasant kept the ball away from Indiana throughout the first 15 minutes of the second half, adding to the Indians’ frustration.
“Quite honestly, I think what hurt us the most was the fact that when we were playing defense, we were letting them make passes around us instead of stepping to the guys with the ball or anticipating the pass,” Myers said. “It’s kind of hard to play offense when you don’t have the ball. And that was a big part of it. When we had the ball, we created opportunities. Offensively, we did OK. It’s just that defensively, we didn’t play as well as a team as we typically do.”
Indiana’s hopes of winning the section title took a hit with the loss, although Myers said he’s more concerned with making the playoffs. The Indians are clinging to the last playoff spot in third place, and at 5-3 in section play, they are just ahead of Mount Pleasant (6-4, 4-3 section).
“At this point, we’re not thinking about it,” Myers said. “Right now, our concern is making playoffs. The section title means nothing if you don’t even make playoffs, so that’s our focus.”