WORTHINGTON -- Starting their Section 2A tournament in a big way, the Worthington Trojans boys soccer team defeated Mankato East 4-1 at Trojan Field Wednesday night. Dalen Gonzalez, a junior defender, scored on three penalty kicks as the Trojans advanced to host Big South Conference rival Marshall next Tuesday.
But it was a first half goal by another defender, junior Isaiah Noble, that was the key to victory. For almost the entire first half, the game was scoreless. Worthington, working with a wind at its back, didn’t want to change sides for the second half without a lead.
Enter Noble. With just 1:36 to go until intermission, the tall, blond-haired defender gathered in a free kick -- attempted 38 yards away from the goal -- nudged it a little to his left, pivoted and scooted it in on the right side.
It took a bounce, Noble said, hit him in the chest, fell in front of him, and he just moved it slightly to tap it in.
“It was very big, coming in the last minute of the first half, to get momentum with a goal. That really fired us up for the second half,” he said later.
There was a lot of jostling for position before the free kick was made -- by both sides.
“We have a lot of guys up for those free kicks,” Noble said. “We have a lot of guys moving to kind of try to confuse them. I was open on the far side.”
For Noble, the goal was his second of the season. He scored the very first goal of Worthington’s season when the team opened the year at Buss Field.
Gonzalez has had a few other penalty kicks go in. On Wednesday, he was 3-for-3. He scored his first with 38:26 remaining in the second half for a 2-0 WHS lead. After Mankato East answered with its own penalty kick at 17:36 -- put in by senior Jacob Kanzenbach -- Gonzalez scored another one with 9:03 remaining. He tallied his last of the day with just 1:41 remaining in the game.
It takes a special player to attempt penalty kicks, because the pressure is squarely on the offensive player. Only a few feet in front of the net, there is only the penalty kicker and the goalkeeper involved in the play. It would make some kickers nervous.
But not Gonzalez. He estimates he’s attempted seven kicks, and all of them have gone in.
“You just block everything around you. You don’t listen to anybody,” he described his approach. “It don’t faze me.”
Worthington, which had a first-round bye, is the No. 1 seed in the Section 2A tournament. Mankato East came in at No. 8. Marshall, the fifth seed, defeated fourth-seeded St. Peter 4-3 in another quarterfinal game on Wednesday.
If the Trojans (10-0-1) dispatch the Tigers next Tuesday at Trojan Field (and they’ve beaten them twice this season, 3-0 and 2-0), they’ll play for the Section 2A championship at home on Oct. 22.
There will be no state tournament this year. But the Trojans are determined to win the section to show that they’re a state tournament team.
Gonzalez made sure the reporter he spoke to after the game understood that the team isn’t resting on what it accomplished on Wednesday.
“The job’s not done, though,” he said.