Orono ousts fifth-seeded WHS from Class A boys soccer tourney
FARMINGTON -- Christian Babo could feel it.
At the start of the first overtime period in Tuesday’s Minnesota State Class A boys soccer tournament game between his Orono Spartans and the Worthington Trojans, the rugged senior midfielder figured it was only a matter of time.
“We knew it was coming,” he said.
The Spartans trailed Section 2A champion Worthington 2-0 at the end of the first half of the quarterfinals. It looked to all that it was going to be the Trojans’ day on the turf field of Farmington High School on a chilly, windy day. But the taller, bigger Spartans became more aggressive in the second half and brought the game into overtime deadlocked at 2-2. They had the wind at their backs in the first OT, they had the Trojans playing too much defense.
Finally, late in the first of two 10-minute overtime periods -- with just 27.8 seconds left -- Orono’s Guyvenson Mohs connected on a short punch-in from a throw-in from the right side, around the 10-yard line. The game was over.
“We just focused on relaxing, focused on possession. It was going to come after a little while,” said Babo, whose free kick from 20 yards with 13:37 remaining in the second half knotted the score at 2.
Orono, the fourth seed of the tournament, will bring a 16-3-2 record with it into the semifinals, scheduled for noon Monday at U.S. Bank Stadium. The fifth-seeded Trojans, competing in their first-ever state soccer tournament, finish 18-1-1.
It was a dream season, for sure, but they were oh so close to making it even better.
“I know some of the seniors are going to be disappointed,” said veteran WHS head coach Smitty Ektnnitphong just prior to holding a meeting with his players. “But I’m going to go into the locker room and say, ‘Hey, we had a great season.’”
A junior, Worthington’s primary offensive weapon, Jon Keodouangsy, walked off the field with sad eyes. He had scored one of the team’s two goals in the first half, and his outstanding speed and ball-handling skills were frequently applauded by coaches watching from the press box area.
He will be back next year, but it will be hard to forget about this one that got away.
“The second half, they got a little momentum after they got the first goal,” Keodouangsy said. Then, when asked how the Spartans were defending him, he said, “They were trying to mark me. If I get the ball, two people were always around me, trying to block me from making the passes. It’s always difficult to get it around them.”
Not only did the Trojans enjoy a great season; they enjoyed an outstanding first half against Orono.
The offense began early. Only 2:46 elapsed before Worthington scored its first goal on a 25-yard lofted shot over OHS goalkeeper Alex Danielson, who lifted his hands above him but appeared to have trouble with the wind.
At the 5:57 mark of the half, fighting for possession of the ball against three Orono defenders while racing toward the Spartan net, Keodouangsy pulled forward just enough to punch it forward, falling while shooting. This time Danielson came out to challenge, but too late.
Victor Alvarez was credited with an assist.
Several times in the first half, and several times in the second, WHS goaltender Sander Diaz made sterling saves. Some of them came behind a pile of tightly-packed players in front of the net, and at least once in the first half on the heels of a 2-on-1 break and a point-blank shot attempt.
In the second half, Orono increased the pressure.
The first goal came at the 20:13 mark on a shot by Christopher Nordlie, assisted by freshman Jamie Bazil. On this one, Diaz couldn’t reach it.
Later, with 13:37 left in the game, Babo caught net from the left corner area on a free kick from about 30 yards away. The bending line drive was perfectly placed and found the upper right side of the net.
There were numerous penalties in the second half. Orono had the lion’s share of free kicks, and with 3:13 remaining in regulation, Worthington’s Octavio Loza was sent out with his second card. WHS played a man short for the rest of the half, yet managed to extend the game into OT.
After the first three minutes of the first overtime period, a pressing Orono outfit attempted two free kicks, and either one of them might have resulted in a score. After five minutes, the Spartans came close to scoring on two other occasions. The Trojans almost managed to get into a second overtime period, but not quite.
Afterward, Babo acknowledged his team’s troubles in the first half.
“We just had a lot of trouble with wind,” he said. “Their number 10 (Keodouangsy) is really a hell of a player. Number 10 and number 22 (Alvarez), a really shifty player.”
Keodouangy recovered from the disappointment of losing to relish Tuesday’s opportunity.
“Just to get to state, it was exciting. Just to get a two-goal lead. That was very exciting. But it’s great to be here, just to get Worthington recognized,” he said.
Keodouangsy is just one of several Trojans who will return for next season. On paper, the team should be outstanding again in 2018.
But Tuesday’s state opener, in the end, turned out not to be Worthington’s moment.
“Orono is pretty aggressive coming to the ball. They did a lot of dictating (in the second half),” Ektnitphong said. “The intensity from Orono picked it up.
“For some reason, we couldn’t clear the mark. We couldn’t clear our passes. The Orono pressure was so high,” he continued.
Ektnitphong singled out junior defenseman Chris Cerda and his senior goaltender, Diaz, for playing exceptional games. Cerda, he said, was calm and collected throughout. Diaz, he said, “would get beaten a few times, but he would not break.”Orono 0 2 1 -- 3Worthington 2 0 0 -- 2