The streak is ended! Long live the streak! The Stratford Boys Varsity Soccer Team ends a streak of four ties and a new streak begins with wins against Cypress Fairbanks on March 3 rd and Cypress Falls on March 6!
The Spartans were away on March 3rd against Cy-Fair with a stiff wind blowing in the Bobcats favor as they kicked off to start the game. The referees began the game calling fouls with minimal physical contact resulting in free kicks that broke up the momentum for both sides. But Stratford soon gained an edge for a while with a shot by Milan Jokic at about eight minutes in and a header try by Will Emerson a minute later. But Cy-Fair seemed to take control for the next ten minutes. Fortunately, a good defensive play by Edmond Ndaye, a Cy-Fair offside and a clearance of a Cy-Fair corner attempt kept the opponents off the scoreboard. Just when your humble reporter put in his notes that Cy-Fair was getting better offensive penetrations, Will Emerson got off a shot that the goalie could only block, enabling Francies Galdino to pounce on the rebound for the score and a 1 – 0 lead. Neither team had the edge following the goal. Stratford held off several Cy-Fair runs with good team defense and individual play by Edmond, Nathan Siciliano, and Sam Cohen. Unfortunately, with less than a minute left in the half, Cy-Fair had a free-kick following a Stratford foul at about 15 yards outside the penalty area. The kick went directly in front of the goal and at the same time the goalie went up for the ball, a Cy-Fair player passed for a header attempt. This resulted in a bobble and a Cy-Fair goal to tie the score 1 – 1.
Stratford came out cooking in the second half after having the kickoff with the wind. The Spartans had four shots but the Cy-Fair goalie was able to handle three with the fourth going out for a goal kick. But on Cy-Fair's first big possession, they were able to get the ball all the way to the goal line on the left side. There, a Cy-Fair player got around the defense and squeezed in a low angle shot for a score and a 2 – 1 advantage. Now, this was a very disconcerting turn of events gentle reader. Stratford had vanquished Cy-Fair 3 – 0 at home earlier in the season. The fact that Cy-Fair had taken the lead and was playing with a certain energy encouraged by the home field crowd did not instill confidence in the Stratford faithful. Truth be told, your humble reporter was downright despondent. But this is where it gets interesting. At about 13 minutes into the half, a Cy Fair player fouled Jack Manke on the right side at about 5 yards out from the penalty area. It was a clip to Jack’s feet that sounded like a potential injury. This resulted in a yellow card for the Cy-Fair player. It was not immediate, perhaps the Cy-Fair said something, but a red card was also pulled putting Cy-Fair down a player. Stratford played as you might expect with a man advantage getting six reasonable offensive runs but no conversion for a score. That changed with about 17 minutes left in the game as Milan Jokic made a 30-yard pass deep to the left side catching Francies Galdino on the run. Francies got off a shot but it went off the goalie for a Stratford corner kick. Jack Manke’s kick curved toward the front center of the goal where a Cy-Fair player got a header pushing the ball out from the goal. But it was out to the feet of Patrick Ndaye who left-footed it into the right lower corner of the goal to tie the score. Oh, yee of little faith, perk up, this game is far from over. Cy-Fair gamely tried to make up for the personnel deficit, but Stratford pressed the advantage. With about nine minutes left in the game, Max Werner took a corner kick on the right side. As the ball bounced around in front of the goal, the ball came back out to Max who had migrated back upfield. Max made a beautiful pass back into the center where Will Emerson was able to get a header deflection on the ball to direct it to the lower-left corner for the score to go up 3 – 2. Five minutes later, Stratford countered off a Cy-Fair corner attempt. Sam Cohen got the ball on the right side and navigated to the center getting past three defenders. Sam passed the ball to Will Emerson who caught Francies Galdino following the play on the right side. Francies threaded the needle between the goalkeeper and the post for the score to go up 4 – 2. And finally, with a minute left to play Stratford got possession of a Cy-Fair goal kick and a pass caught Milan Jokic the far-left side. Milan cut to the goal, but his shot was blocked by the goalie. The rebound was picked up by another Stratford player, but his shot was blocked by a Cy-Fair defender. The rebound of that shot went to Will Emerson who rolled it into the open goal for the fourth consecutive Stratford goal and a 5- 2 score. That was it and that was enough soccer fans. It was a naysayer converting come-from-behind victory.
Stratford hosted Cypress Falls High School on March 6 on a windless night. Cy-Falls had the kickoff going North and navigated downfield for a centering pass attempt that resulted in a corner kick. Stratford pushed the other direction with 3 successive throw-ins and a missed shot. Stratford was moving the ball well and Cy-Falls was not pressing particularly tight on defense. At five minutes into the game, a Stratford pass from midfield was headed out over the goal line for a Stratford corner on the left side. Jack Manke put the corner kick just outside the goal area where Patrick Ndaye drove a header up over the goalie hitting the bottom of the crossbar for the score. Stratford goes up 1 – 0. Wonderful you might think. Ah, but we have been in that position before soccer fans. The soccer gods have other ideas. Stratford continued to press on offense getting four good shot attempts in the next 18 minutes. One was a run that Jack Manke made down the center where he was tripped up and fouled just outside the penalty area. The free-kick went wide right. But as time went by, Cy-Falls started to get the advantage on possession with extended sets of on-target passes. This allowed a handful of scoring attempts and really close calls, one where a Cy-Falls lifted a pass over the Stratford defense to a teammate, who had a wide-open point-blank shot but missed weakly to the right. Other than that, the Stratford defense came up with some solid team play that kept Cy-Falls scoreless to the end of the half.
Stratford kicked off going North for the second half. Play was balanced throughout the half as each side took turns with runs of offensive penetrations, but no real threats to score. At some points, neither team seemed to be able to keep possession for more than 30 seconds as play would go back and forth in the middle third of the field. Occasionally, Cy-Falls would make a run and get off a shot, but Nick Hay was positioned to make the grab. Mostly, Cy-Falls would get to the penalty area and the Stratford defense would fend off the penetration with a kick down the field. Stratford had a run of offensive chances in the middle of the half including a header by Will Emerson after a great pass from Patrick Ndaye and a shot by Francies Galdino. Both shot attempts required diving stops by the Cy-Falls goalkeeper. From there it was a matter of waiting for the point in time where in three previous games this season the opponents have scored to tie the game. Yes, the dedicated reader will well remember those three games, one of which was the away game against Cy-Falls where they scored with twelve minutes to go. But at the appointed time in this game, two Cy-Fair corner kicks and one shot on goal came and went without the soccer gods so much as breathing on the fulcrum of destiny. Cy-Fair played like they had to score and Stratford played to stop them and that was all the difference. Stratford breaks the curse of the early score to hold on for the 1 – 0 win. It was a happy group of teammates that posed for a group picture after it was all over.
That wraps it up for this week soccer fans. Stratford has its remaining game away with a showdown vs the district leading Jersey Village on Monday, March 10th. The result of that game and the result of Jersey Village vs Spring Woods later in the week will determine if Stratford ends the season in first or second place. See you at the pitch.