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Boys soccer: Trojans advance to Section 2A finals

Worthington Trojans soccer player Edwin Hernandez (11) intercepts a pass between Albert Lea Tigers Brayden Boettcher (18) and Cole Indrelie (3) in Tuesday's Section 2A game. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)1 / 2
Chris Cerda of the Worthington Trojans leaps for a header during Tuesday's boys soccer match at Worthington's Buss Field. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- The only thing that bothered the Worthington Trojans boys soccer team Tuesday were very small bugs.

The little critters rose from the grass at Buss Field and attacked the legs, hands and faces of the players and fans assembled for the Section 2A semifinals. They appeared harder for the Trojans to handle than the Albert Lea Tigers, who succumbed in a 3-0 result.

On Thursday, Worthington (17-0-1) will play for the section championship against the winner of Tuesday night’s other semifinal contest between No. 3 seed Mankato East and No. 2 seed Northfield. The title contest will be played at 5 p.m. at New Prague High School.

After Tuesday’s victory, Trojan players said they didn’t really care who was next. They were satisfied with their performance against Albert Lea, and they had a right to be.

“We got the No. 1 seed for a reason. We believe we’re the best team, and we want to prove it,” said junior defenseman Chris Cerda.

“Whatever is coming at us, we’re ready for them,” testified senior defenseman Octavio Loza.

Head coach Smitty Ektnitphong was of the same opinion.

“We’re playing like we’re the No. 1 team in the section. It’s a good feeling at this time of year when your team is clicking on all cylinders,” Ektnitphong said.

In the section quarterfinals last week, Worthington prevailed 4-1 against Mankato Loyola, but the winners didn’t look particularly sharp in doing it. Against the Tigers, however, they were sharp throughout -- moving well, spacing well, passing well, and playing consistently impressive defense. The Trojans out-shot fifth-seeded Albert Lea 15-3 in the first half. And even though shot attempts were even in the second half (6 to 6), a spectator could easily get the impression that WHS was in control at all times.

Ektnitphong was particularly impressed with his junior midfielder, Victor Alvarez, who controlled the middle with workmanlike efficiency. “All the balls he gets to his teammates are right on,” said his coach.

Goalkeeper Sander Diaz was excellent as always, maintaining a typically high level of play that sometimes gets overlooked simply because of his consistency. Junior forward Jon Keodouangsy -- the top goal scorer in Minnesota Class A boys soccer -- was ill in school on Tuesday and was kept off the field until midway through the first half.

Once on the pitch, however, he came within an eyelash of scoring four times in the first half, displaying above all his outstanding speed.

That Keodouangsy went scoreless Tuesday seemed almost a fluke, but he spent much of the second half backed off from his forward position. His presence all over the field kept Albert Lea from keying on him, and his speed helped the WHS defense out, too.

Worthington scored the first goal of the game at the 34:43 mark of the first half on a goal by Edwin Hernandez, off an assist by Anthony Euceda. Later, with 23:55 showing on the first half clock, Tony Martinez attempted a kick from the left corner and slipped the sphere into net just inside the right post.

A roughness penalty against Albert Lea allowed Cerda to set up for a penalty kick about 10 yards in front of the Tigers’ goal with 29:28 showing in the second half. Cerda’s boot was blocked by the Albert Lea goalkeeper at the far left corner, but Cerda took the rebound and kicked it cleanly into the strings for a 3-0 WHS advantage.

After the game, Cerda said the Trojans improved in passing, energy and hustle from last week.

“I feel much better going into the section finals than last week’s game. There was more focus this game,” he said.

Added Loza, “We knew what we had to do. In practice, we knew what we had to do with passing. We would slow down, talk about it. We knew what we had to do, and that’s what we did today.”

“I came out more stronger. Getting this win, I just feel so happy to win this game,” said Hernandez.

Keodouangsy’s head was still throbbing after the game ended. But he and his teammates finished their task together, he said, and that was a pleasing thought. “I feel like I did all right even though I am sick. I gave my team passing opportunities and created goal scoring opportunities, too.”

Ektnitphong, always ready to find a weak spot in the Trojans’ game, pronounced himself satisfied.

“What we do, we just let them go out there and play. And that’s what you want to do,” he said.

A charter fan bus will leave the WHS student parking lot Thursday at 1:15 p.m. for New Prague. Seats are $10 and the deadline to sign up at the school’s main office is 4 p.m. Wednesday. All students grades K-8 must have an adult with them for supervision.

Albert Lea 0 0 -- 0Worthington 2 1 -- 3
Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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