WESA U18 stumble through end of season

Drop last two games

by Than Acuff

Following a 5-1 win over Montrose last weekend, the West Elk Soccer Association (WESA) was primed to close out the spring club season in top form with games against Gunnison and Carbondale in the final week of play.

But, as has been the case all season long, the team took one step forward against Montrose but then two steps back against Gunnison.

Gunnison has a long-standing tradition of strong soccer in the spring but numbers dwindled over the past year, leaving coach Damon Parker with limited resources this season. And when WESA lined up for their game against Gunnison on Thursday, May 19, Gunnison had just one sub and a fairly young team, while WESA was stacked to the gills on the bench with a mix of veterans and younger players. Unfortunately, the apparent mismatch meant a lackluster effort by WESA in the end.

“The energy was not so hot going through the warm-up,” says player Ryan Myers. “We were just going through the motions. We heard Gunnison wasn’t that strong this year and I think we were expecting to win.”

WESA opened the game in control, still figuring out the possession game but linking passes to build their attack. The effort opened up a couple of early scoring chances for WESA but as the team failed to finish, their spirits started to tank.

Meanwhile, Gunnison staved off the initial push and started finding success straight down the middle of the field with both Merlin Mapes and Jose Alcaron breaking through to fire off shots. WESA keeper Abram Nute made the necessary saves, and the defense of Woody Martineau and Alden Watkins turned away other chances to keep the game scoreless at halftime.

Energy and desire ultimately made the difference in the game. As WESA’s effort continued to dwindle, Gunnison continued to fight for loose balls, press forward on offense and dictate the pace of the game. Noah Dumas was moved back to center defense for WESA and he played an integral part in holding off the Gunnison attack, but WESA was unable to generate any transition from their own end as passes missed their marks and WESA collapsed in a silent game of dribbling.

“Our effort was high but in the wrong place,” says Myers. “We were just trying to run the ball up the middle.”

Twenty minutes into the second half, WESA goalie Slater Weil made a huge save but seconds later a snafu in the defensive third of WESA resulted in an open look for Alcaron in front of the net and he finished to give Gunnison a 1-0 lead. The blow pushed WESA into a deep psychological hole that they could never climb out of, as they turned to panic ball to try to tie the game and Gunnison held on for the remaining 25 minutes to seal the 1-0 win.

While the loss was a bitter pill to swallow, the WESA squad had one last chance to finish the season on a positive note, heading to Carbondale on Saturday, May 21.

“I think we were looking to finish the season on a high note,” says Myers.

The WESA roster was gutted since several players missed the game, leaving WESA just two subs. Nevertheless, a smaller team allows the opportunity for a cohesive effort over 90 minutes and the team looked forward to the challenge.

As has been the case most of the spring season, WESA was slow to get going, giving up two goals to Carbondale in the opening eight minutes and leaving the team in an all too familiar territory.

“We were caught off-guard,” says Myers. “Their strikers were faster than us and moving a lot and pushing four-up on attack and we weren’t expecting that.”

Adjustments were made to remedy the situation and the team recovered to start playing a better game of soccer, resulting in a goal in the 15th minute.

Dumas lined up for an indirect kick inside the 18-yard box and chipped a pass into the six, and as Carbondale scrambled to clear the ball, Oliver Houseman slipped through to punch it home, pulling WESA back into contention.

The goal sparked even better play, with WESA’s defense tightening up, and the team started producing chances up-field with renewed effort. Once again though, the finishing touch was missing and the team headed into halftime down 2-1.

“We were pushing up on attack a lot harder and working to get the ball up-field,” says Myers.

Down 2-1, the team was ramped to find the equalizer early in the second half and they followed through 45 seconds in, when Jordi Nichols stripped the ball off of a Carbondale defender and took it straight to net to score, tying the game 2-2.

Yet the equalizer failed to spark any semblance of a surge from WESA and Carbondale retook the lead seven minutes later. Carbondale continued to press, and while WESA’s defense was solid, missteps at midfield allowed Carbondale to control the game. They added to their lead 30 minutes into the second half to go up 4-2, at which point WESA panicked once again, relying on dribbling and little communication or team play to try to claw back into the game.

As it often does, no talk and lots of dribbling proved to be a recipe for disaster as WESA stumbled through the final 15 minutes of the game, ultimately falling 4-2.

“I think we might have gotten overconfident again and Carbondale was pushing a lot harder and their defense was pushing up to keep us from moving the ball up-field,” says Myers.

While the season was marked with missed opportunities, both scoring and winning games, and the team was left with an empty feeling following the final two losses, there still remains something to build on as they take a break and then regroup for the fall high school season.

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