Cohesion dissipates in offensive third
World Cup fever has swept the nation, or just got done sweeping the nation and is now being swept back under the rug.
While I realize that by the time you’re reading this, the U.S. either pulled off a massive upset Tuesday and defeated Belgium to advance to the quarterfinals bringing ‘Merica’s new found love of soccer to an all-time high.
Or, Belgium handed the U.S. a clinic, we lost and now all of that newfound love has been turned once again into the same old U.S. disdain for soccer and people can return to watching NASCAR. Besides, I’m pretty sure we kick Belgium’s ass in NASCAR. Though they got a leg up on us in waffles.
Amidst all of this national frenzy for footy, was a little local soccer insanity as the Crested Butte Kickers hosted the 20th Annual Crested Butte Invitational soccer tournament last weekend, the longest running coed ski town soccer tournament in the nation.
Hopes were high for Crested Butte Kickers heading into the weekend. And their hopes should be because for one, the Kickers haven’t won a lot of their own tournaments so there’s nowhere to go but up. And two, pot is legal in Colorado.
Furthermore, the U.S. advanced out of group play, so why couldn’t the Kickers? Further-evenmore, the team had some time on the field together to prepare and a new crew of talented women joined the ranks this summer.
“For the first time in recent memory we had eight strong women players,” says player/manager Drew Canale.
But as the weekend played out, the demons from Crested Butte’s closet emerged once again at the most inopportune time in the most inopportune places.
Granted, success was somewhat tempered as a slew of Front Range club teams made their annual pilgrimage to the mountains, escaping the heat and bringing their high brand of competitive soccer.
Nevertheless, Crested Butte got a favorable draw for group play with teams from Colorado Springs, Winter Park and Grand Junction in their bracket.
The key to advancing out of the group stage came in their first game of the tournament against Colorado Springs Saturday morning.
Hoping to jump on the road-weary team, the Kickers looked to begin the weekend with a shocking win over the Colorado Springs Casual. And while their temperament was just that, casual, the talent on the Colorado Springs team was anything but.
Crested Butte handled the not-so-casual play of Colorado Springs and their efforts were rewarded with a handful of chances on net but a couple of miscues and an overpowering Front Range team proved too much for the Kickers, as they dropped the opening match 3-0.
“They were by far the best team we faced all weekend and we had our chances but it just wasn’t our best game,” says Canale.
It quickly became obvious that Colorado Springs would cruise through the group stage and advance to the finals so the only thing left for the Kickers was their pride as they lined up against Winter Park Saturday afternoon.
Winter Park has shared the cellar of the Crested Butte tournament with the Kickers the past several years but picked up some not-so-homegrown talent for the Crested Butte tournament, hoping to turn the fortunes around.
Their initial surge in the opening 10 minutes proved troublesome for the Kickers as Winter Park jumped out to an early 1-0 lead.
“Even at that point confidence was still high,” says Canale. “The goal was just a mental error and we were firing on all pistons.”
The Kickers continued to dictate play and the work paid off with a series of goals over the course of the next 15 minutes.
Ian Elder opened the scoring for the Kickers, slipping through the weak side and driving a shot near post to tie the game. Ten minutes later Heather Duryea snapped a shot off the post that bounced out to Mike Eaton and Eaton picked the low corner driving the ball from 25 yards out for a 2-1 Kickers lead.
With Eaton and Canale holding court in the middle of the field and Ellen Teague and Dana Shellhorn shutting Winter Park down on the flanks, Matt Schmalz and Polly McGrane were free to work their midfield magic and find teammates open in the offensive third. After a couple of misfires, Schmalz and Brandon Clifford finally linked up inside the 18 and Clifford finished after dropping his defender to give the Kickers a 3-1 lead at halftime.
“Having such strong women allowed us to open things up on offense,” says Canale. “We were feeling good and we wanted to keep pouring it on in the second half.”
Unfortunately, that sideline energy failed to transfer out to the field as the Kickers stumbled through the opening 10 minutes of the second half. Winter Park seized the opportunity by scoring on a corner kick and threatened to tie the game up had it not been for the work of Todd Bogart in net. Bogart came up big off his line to quash a couple of Winter Park breakaways, earning the Kickers some breathing room as they regrouped for one final push.
Once again, the effort paid off as Elder pushed the pace up the left side and drove a cross low and hard into the six-yard box that deflected off a Winter Park defender and into the back of the net, sealing the Kickers’ 4-2 win.
After a spirited dinner and tournament party Saturday night, the Kickers woke up Sunday morning determined to break old habits. For the past several years the Kickers have finished tournaments with a record of 1-1-1. They came into their match Sunday against Grand Junction 1-1, determined to finish 2-1 for the first time in a long time.
And for all intents and purposes they were right on target for reaching that goal as they dominated possession and play throughout the entire first half. But an old habit started to emerge. For years the Kickers have managed to dominate possession only to stall in the offensive third of the field and it was happening again.
Passes were rolling just out of reach, touches were just a foot or so too far in front and shots either missed the mark or were turned away by the outstanding work of the Grand Junction goalkeeper.
Everyone was doing his or her job. Eaton and Canale were unbeatable down the middle. Teague, Rachael Steward and Shellhorn closed down the outside and found teammates with pinpoint passing, and Brian Fenerty, the only Kicker to have played in all 20 tournaments, dominated the air and hit a number of cross-field chips to find space on the weak side. Yet, the Kickers still couldn’t find the final, most important, scoring touch.
“Their defense had holes and we were moving the ball around better than we had all weekend,” says Canale. “We talked about being patient and staying on track.”
The Kickers’ push resulted in a penalty kick opportunity but adding insult to injury, the attempt flew wide. Then the “absolute dagger” came in the 22nd minute of the second half when Grand Junction floated a random shot from 35 yards out that picked the upper 90 for a 1-0 lead.
The strike had a rippling effect as the Kickers resorted to playing up the middle, trying to force their way to net as Grand Junction collapsed into a defensive shell to hold on for the 1-0 win.
“It was a disappointing finish to the tournament but I was truly encouraged by the level of soccer played by the Kickers,” says Canale.
The Kickers will continue training through July and look to finish the summer season strong with a positive showing at the annual Telluride tournament in August.