by Than Acuff
For the second time in a row this summer, the Crested Butte Kickers adult soccer team came close to winning their first tournament title since 1996, when they hosted the 22nd Annual Crested Butte Invitational coed soccer tournament presented by the West Elk Soccer Association Saturday and Sunday, June 18-19.
The weekend effort by the Kickers was further testament to the new era in Crested Butte adult coed soccer, as an uprising of youth and a new corps of women is bringing the Kickers’ game to a new level.
After seeing success on the road two weeks ago at a tournament in Grand Junction, team player/managers Ian Elder and Brian Fenerty decided to keep the train rolling and field a near similar team for the home tournament last weekend, with a few additions.
The team reached out to the Western State Colorado University women’s team and pulled in Katie Simpson-Johnson to play in net, Paige Williams, Christina Spatharos, and rising star Elin Binck to join shining star Dana Shellhorn on the women’s side. Meanwhile, former Crested Butte Titan standouts Kaleb Schultz and Prawit Durgan joined the already young and powerful squad, including the brothers Koval and the man from across the pond, Tom Lewis.
But nothing would be possible without the seasoned corps of veterans led by Fenerty, who has missed only one home tournament in its 22-year existence; Elder, who has seen some of the darkest days of Kickers soccer; Justin “Juice” Derby; Jeff “Fungophile” Jaquith; and Cole Britton. Britton spent his formative years shutting down Clint Dempsey, the Clint Dempsey, in the Texas youth development leagues and, despite his graying hair, is still quicker than anyone on the field, young or old.
Marshall Thomson, known more for his efforts on the ultra-endurance circuit, has joined the Kickers’ squad this year and, last but certainly not least, the man from South Carolina, Allen Smith. A former collegiate place kicker and soccer player, Smith reshaped the Kickers’ attitude when he joined the team, elevating their play and their attitude, to help usher in this new era.
Suffice it to say, with a strong showing in Grand Junction and a stacked roster for the Crested Butte tournament, the general consensus was that this would be the year of the Kicker.
The team got off to an explosive start in their opening game Saturday morning against Boulder, so much so one player commented, “We look like a real team.”
Jaquith sparked the Kickers’ first goal of the tournament five minutes into the game when he pushed the ball wide out of the back to Britton. Britton turned upfield and found Brice Koval breaking free with a pass over the top and Brice finished it off for a 1-0 Kicker lead.
A minute later the Kickers struck again when Brice played a ball up top to Lewis, who let it slip through his legs to Britton on the weak side and Britton blasted his shot past the Boulder keeper.
But the Kickers have a penchant for complacency and they spent the next 10 minutes playing down to the level of their opponent, leaving the door slightly open for a Boulder comeback. Fortunately, fresh legs came onto the field for the Kickers and they took back control of the game to hold the two-goal lead heading into halftime and then built on that lead in the second half.
Fenerty provided the spark in the opening 10 minutes of the second half when he pushed the ball wide to Binck and Binck’s cross into the six-yard box deflected off of a Boulder player for a 3-0 Kickers lead. With Durgan and Britton anchoring the center of the defense, the Kickers cruised through the final 15 minutes capped by a goal from Graham finishing Boulder off 4-0.
It took the Kickers a while to recharge when they faced Winter Park later that morning. The Kickers often triumph over Winter Park and that over-confidence plagued them in the opening 20 minutes as the organized defense of Winter Park stifled the Kicker attack.
Meanwhile, Winter Park threatened to counterattack numerous times, but Jaquith and Williams had the outsides sealed tight and Smith proved to be a one-man wall in the middle of the defense. The first half was destined to finish scoreless until the final minutes when Britton slipped a pass to Brice just outside the 18-yard box and Brice buried the left-footed shot low to the corner to take a 1-0 lead into halftime.
Lewis then built on the Kickers’ lead 10 minutes into the second half. Lewis developed as a striker through the youth ranks in England and just as England has struggled with finishing during the Euro 2016, so too did Lewis in the first game of the Kickers tournament. Yet, he broke the seal against Winter Park, taking a pass from Graham and calmly slipping the ball past the outstretched arms of the Winter Park keeper, stirring up memories of a young Michael Owen during the 1998 World Cup.
Up 2-0, the Kickers again slipped into complacency and Winter Park had its chances until Thomson chased a ball down to the end line and dropped it back to Shellhorn in support. Shellhorn teed up the ball and popped it over the Winter Park keeper and into the side, netting from 22 yards out to seal the 3-0 Kickers win.
Sunday morning would prove to be one of the most successful mornings in Crested Butte adult soccer history. With a Denver team dropping out last minute before the tournament start, a second Crested Butte team, the Bombers, was formed to fill the gap, and while they lost to the Colorado Springs Casuals Saturday, they cruised to a 4-0 win over Winter Park Sunday morning on goals from Garrett McCaffety and Dylan Curtiss, and two from Phil Reed.
Meanwhile, the Kickers proceeded to dominate the Colorado Springs Casuals in the semifinals, exacting revenge for their Bomber brothers and sisters. After a scoreless first half, the Kickers erupted for three goals in the second half, sparked by goals from the brothers Koval. Brice opened the scoring followed by a direct kick by Graham and then Graham recorded the brace by chipping the Casual keeper from distance, as the Kickers won 3-1 to earn a spot in the tournament finals.
Unfortunately, the Kickers ran out of steam in the final game of the tournament, facing a physical and well-organized team from Boulder. Boulder built a 1-0 lead in the first half, which could have been more had it not been for the work of Simpson-Johnson in net. Crested Butte scrambled to stay with the Boulder players and hung on by a thread into the second half but the effort took its toll on the Kickers as Boulder netted two more goals. The Kickers did get one last hurrah in the final minute of play as Britton sliced to the end line and crossed the ball to Lewis inside the six-yard box and Lewis pushed it home, but the final whistle blew immediately following and the Kickers came up short 3-1.
Down but not out, the Kickers will take a brief respite from competition and then regroup to head to Winter Park July 9-10, continuing their quest for a tournament title.