Two more ties keep the Stratford Boys Soccer Team in second place in District play.
The Spartans keep an even keel with an away game vs Northbrook on February 25 and Memorial visiting on February 28.
Prospects were on the positive side for play this week against Northbrook and Memorial, two teams that Stratford had wins against in the first half of the season. But there are no slouches in the District as both opponents stiffened their defenses in games that kept fans on the edge of their seats. The Spartans took on Northbrook in an away game on February 25 th. Northbrook kicked off to begin the game going with a stiff wind out of the North. Play was balanced through the first 25 minutes of play with Stratford getting six reasonable chances at scoring vs Northbrook’s four despite some sloppiness in the Spartans passing. Stratford’s defense seemed able to handle Northbrook’s incursions. But the tilt of play shifted to Northbrook’s favor in the next thirteen minutes of play as Northbrook gained confidence with their quickness and ability to maintain possession and a measure of disciplined passing. Northbrook managed five goal-scoring opportunities as the Spartans struggled to get out of the defensive end. With two minutes in the half, Stratford succeeded in breaking Northbrook’s spell and pushed the ball deep into the opponent’s end on the left side. From there Stratford got off a long crossing pass to the right side that sliced through the penalty area. The pass caught a Northbrook player’s arm for a hand-ball and penalty shot. The attempt fell to Milan Jokic who continued his streak of successful penalty shots as he drilled it into the left side of the goal putting Stratford up 1 – 0.
Stratford had the kickoff going with the wind in the second half, providing some optimism that this would provide a favorable bias in the direction of the ball. Nope, Northbrook came out with a tight, tough defensive intensity getting feet on the Stratford player possessions and hustling to be on the end of Stratford pass attempts. The result was three real Stratford offensive opportunities in the first thirty minutes of the half while Northbrook had seven. This included one shot that hit the topside of the goal crossbar. Stratford managed its own strong defensive resistance with play from Sam Cohen, Nathan Purvis and Nathan Siciliano. Play evened out with the teams exchanging possession in rapid transitions. Will Emerson managed separate header and shot attempts that were grabbed by the goalie. So now we approach the point in the game with ten minutes left, otherwise known as the Spartan tipping point of destiny. You may think that your humble reporter would be joking if he were to describe how at this juncture the opponents managed to score to tie the game at 1 to 1. You would think this could not possibly happen for the third time this season. Well brace yourself, gentle reader, it could happen and it did. Northbrook had been pressing the offensive advantage for most of the half. So in hindsight, it was only a matter of time. Sure enough, at the end of a good series of passing connections, a Northbrook player with the ball broke past the defense on the left side and managed to find an open spot on the left side of the goal for the tie. Our Spartans gamely tried to grab the advantage for the rest of the game but they ran out of time. The Soccer Gods work their nefarious ways once again.
Needless to say, thunderstruck Spartan fans were in the apprehensive frame of mind for the next home game versus the winless Memorial Mustangs on February 28. You may recall that the previous game vs Memorial was a soul-wrenching affair as the lead was exchanged three times with Stratford coming out on top in the end. The game this time started will enough with Stratford getting two offensive pushes into the Memorial end, but the shots came up empty. Unfortunately, during a Memorial run to the Stratford end, a Stratford player went shoulder to shoulder with a Memorial player who had just lost possession of the ball in the penalty area. The abrupt change in acceleration of the Memorial player was enough to catch the attention of the referee for a foul call and a penalty shot. Memorial managed the conversion with a shot up the middle to go up 1 – 0. Uh oh, you may think and you would be right. The opponent’s score gave the Spartans a boost of enthusiasm for the next ten minutes, leading to 5 consecutive offensive chances but no scores. But the tide shifted in Memorial’s favor as they gained confidence in holding Stratford off in that period. Memorial countered with five offensive chances of their own and Stratford was locked back in the defensive end. Memorial was winning the 50/50 chances and Stratford was not doing themselves any favors with their passing miscues. The half ended with Memorial holding on to their 1 – 0 advantage.
In the past, your humble reporter has often speculated what messages coaches confer to their players during halftime. Of course, this would be purely guessing on his part (third person, really?). Despite the lack of any actual insight and passable knowledge of soccer strategy on his part, it could be imagined that the coach reminded the Spartans that Memorial had not won a game ALL SEASON and perhaps the team might have better results if they passed the ball to players with the same color jersey. This may have been mixed with a few other choice admonishments. In any case, it was a more disciplined Stratford team that came out in the second half. Over the next 40 minutes, Stratford managed 13 offensive incursions into Memorial territory while the Mustangs had only 5. But what about the score you would ask. At 8 minutes into the half Jack Manke was moving left to right just outside the penalty area and was fouled. This set-up Milan Jokic for the free kick at the center of the field. His kick went to the right side of the line that Memorial had established headed for the right bottom corner of the goal. The goalie seemed to get a hand on it, but the ball hit the right inside netting for the score. Game tied 1 – 1. This time it was Memorial that should have sacrificed a spiral-sliced ham to the Soccer Gods. As alluded to earlier, Stratford had a number of chances for the remainder of the half but was not able to convert for a go-ahead score. So the streak continues, a streak of four ties unfortunately or fortunately if you want, as it could have been worse. Best not to tempt the Soccer Gods with complaining.
District play continues next week with an away game on Tuesday March 3 against Cypress Fairbanks and a home game against Cypress Falls on March 6. See you at the pitch.