Host Telluride this Saturday in Gunnison
[ by Than Acuff ]
The Crested Butte Titans boy’s soccer team opened the 2021 season with three matches over five days winning two and tying another.
The Titans headed to Salida on Tuesday, March 16 to face the perennial 3A powerhouse and after two halves and two overtimes, both teams came up empty to finish with a scoreless draw.
“I thought we played pretty well for our first game of the season,” says captain Nathan Miller. “We just couldn’t finish and kept trying to force the balls through that weren’t going through.”
Two days later, the Titans hosted the 2019 2A state champion Ridgway Demons. The Demons knocked the Titans out of the post season last year and Crested Butte was hungry for revenge.
“That was a motivating factor for sure,” says Miller. “To be back playing on that same field where it happened.”
The first half was fairly uneventful as both teams looked to establish possession in the midfield and open up scoring chances. The Demons four midfielders worked well together to create opportunities but Crested Butte’s back three of Trent Pulliam, Eric Lain and Otto Billingsley remained compact to shut off any lanes to the Titan net.
Meanwhile, the Titan players were in place and space was there to be taken but fatigue lingered from the double overtime game two days prior and passes, touches and timing were all off.
The misfires resulted in Crested Butte losing the ball numerous times before cracking into the attacking third and the strikers left to their own devices to try and make things happen up top.
Tied 0-0 at halftime, the Titans made some adjustments looking to try and gain an edge somewhere on the pitch.
The Titans got a boost early from the efforts of striker/captain Gabi Marmolejo as he stripped the ball off of a Ridgway defender and headed straight to goal to tuck the ball in the low corner for a 1-0 lead three minutes into the second half.
“We had pressure out on the flanks so that left their player with limited options,” explains Marmolejo. “I just read the pass and took it.”
Ridgway’s work in the midfield continued to cause issues for the Titans but the adjustments helped alleviate the pressure somewhat and the back line continued to remain solid in their shape to shut off any true threats on Titans’ goalie/captain Alex Eldridge.
The tide started to turn with 15 minutes left in regulation as fatigue set in on the Ridgway side. Crested Butte started to find additional lanes up the flanks and a push wide resulted in a throw in deep in the attacking third. Marmolejo grabbed the ball for one of his patented flip throws sending the ball into the 18-yard box on a rope. The Demon keeper and defender struggled to handle the toss and Nathan Sawyer jumped on the loose ball to punch it home for a 2-0 lead with four minutes left in the game.
Crested Butte spent the final minutes of the game in control of the ball to eventually seal the 2-0 win.
“There was definitely fatigue left over from the Salida game but we edged out the win,” says Miller. “In general, it wasn’t a great game though.”
“It was reassuring and nice to get the win,” adds Marmolejo. “But, I think we have the potential to play way better.”
Two days later the Titans returned to the road to face the Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS) Oysters on Saturday, March 20.
The Oysters threatened early in the game with their speed up top but Eldridge and his defense made the necessary adjustments to shut that down before CRMS could gain momentum.
The space and pace was in the Titans favor as the half wore on and they opened the scoring 15 minutes in when Jamis Matlock took the ball off an Oyster and slotted it through to Jacob Bernholtz for the goal.
Two minutes later Bernholtz struck again as Nathan Miller found a seam to him through the Oyster defense for a 2-0 lead at halftime.
“We definitely struggled to get the ball to the midfielders for them to move the ball and switch the attack for more options,” says Marmolejo. “But we had a lot of give-and-gos and the defense remained calm to help us gain possession.”
Crested Butte tacked on two more goals in the second half. The first one came off a set play when Marmolejo dumped the ball behind the Oysters and Bernholtz tapped it past their keeper. The Titans then finished off the 4-0 win in the final two minutes as Baden Garmhausen found Marmolejo wide with a pass. Marmolejo turned up the flank and drove past two CRMS players to then feed Bernholtz inside the six-yard box for his fourth goal of the game finishing the opening week with two wins and a tie.
“We were able to recognize weak spots and attack them more efficiently opening up the goals for Jacob,” says Miller.
Crested Butte will continue league play as they host the Telluride Miners at the Gunnison High School football field on Saturday, March 27. The varsity plays at 4 p.m. and fans are allowed but must maintain social distancing and wear masks.