“The boys had to dig deep to find a way to win and that’s exactly what they did”
By Than Acuff
The young Crested Butte Titans boys soccer team got their first two tests of the 2023 season with non-league match-ups against Basalt and Alamosa on Friday and Saturday, August 18–19. Both teams come from larger schools and Basalt was one of three losses the Titans suffered last season, so to open the year with these opponents would provide the coaching staff with an idea of what they had moving forward this season.
“A lot of the boys have been preparing for opening weekend all summer long by practicing on their own and with each other,” says coach Matt Wilson.
The Titans kicked off the two-day stretch on Friday evening against the Basalt Longhorns. Call it excitement for the new season, the passion of youth, home field advantage or all the above, but the Titans brought it all to jump out to a 4-1 lead in the first half.
Crested Butte opened the scoring 12 minutes in when a foul led to a direct kick from just outside the 18-yard box and Kai Greene curled his shot in just under the crossbar for a 1-0 lead. Six minutes later, Sawyer Barney chipped a pass over the top to Shawn Moran for Moran to score, but Basalt answered back in the 26th minute during an opening half that can be best described as frantic.
While Basalt looked to pick the Titans defense with skilled play, the back four remained tight and composed to turn away numerous chances, and the Titans built back onto their lead when Moran slipped a pass to Barney and Barney drilled his shot far post for a 3-1 lead.
Crested Butte continued to hold off the Longhorns’ attack and then tacked on a fourth goal in the 37th minute when Will Harpel buried a shot from 40 yards out for a 4-1 lead going into halftime.
“I think that lead at halftime was a combination of a few things,” says Wilson. “We have a ton of firepower in our offense that can score in a multitude of ways, so it was the perfect storm of talent, grit and determination that led to us hanging four goals on Basalt.”
The game turned tenuous for the Titans as Basalt came out in the second half looking to erase the three-goal deficit. They struck in the eighth minute of the second half and kept pressing, but the Titans held on despite the onset of early season fatigue to seal the 4-2 win.
“I found Basalt to be a technically sound, well-organized team with dangerous pace up top,” says Wilson. “They can hurt you quickly as we saw early on in the second half, but our boys stayed focused and never gave up on each other. It was a well-deserved win, and a dream start for the boys.”
Weary from their showdown with Basalt, the Titans returned to the field the next morning to face the Alamosa Mean Moose. Alamosa’s program has been a notoriously tough match up for Crested Butte, and while some years their team struggles, they often challenge the Titans and did so again Saturday morning.
With a well-organized defense and quick play, Alamosa had Crested Butte scrambling. Add in the fact that Crested Butte was visibly worn down, and the Mean Moose attack eventually resulted in a handball by the Titans and a penalty kick for Alamosa 30 minutes into the game for a 1-0 lead at halftime.
“Alamosa proved to be a very tough opponent,” says Wilson. “I knew there was a possibility that our boys would come out flat after their emotionally charged win the day before, and that’s exactly what happened.”
The second half played out much like the first half, but the Titans dug deep and remained in the hunt. Once it became evident Alamosa was looking to hold on for the win, Crested Butte shifted gears pulling a player off the back line to move another striker forward with 13 minutes left in regulation.
The move ended up playing out in Crested Butte’s favor as Moran settled a low strike from Jordan Silva from distance to punch the ball through, tying the game 1-1 with seven minutes left in regulation. Two minutes later, Greene scored off an assist from Gardner and the Titans closed out the 2-1 comeback win.
“The boys had to dig deep to find a way to win and that’s exactly what they did,” says Wilson. “These boys are competitors, and we’ve watched this competitive nature play out all during preseason. They do not give up on each other or the team, and we knew if we kept it close, then they would have a fighting chance.”
When all was said and done from their opening matches, Crested Butte showed where they may find success through the season.
“We found out the boys have a winning mindset, and when they’re all playing for each other and firing on all pistons, then there’s nothing that can stop them,” says Wilson.
The Titans remain in the hot seat this week with a game against perennial 3A powerhouse Roaring Fork, and finish the first week of non-league play when they host Colorado Springs Christian on Friday, August 25 at 5 p.m. at Rainbow field.
“Roaring Fork will be a very tough game against a very tough opponent,” says Wilson. “I think our boys are up for the challenge and we cannot wait to see what happens.”