Cardinals edge Eagles, 1-0
WILLMAR -- Kaiser De Kam knew he was facing a tough challenge. After allowing a mere five goals in Southwest Christian's seven-game winning streak entering Friday's Section 2A boys' soccer final, the senior goalkeeper and the Eagles were matched ...
WILLMAR -- Kaiser De Kam knew he was facing a tough challenge.
After allowing a mere five goals in Southwest Christian's seven-game winning streak entering Friday's Section 2A boys' soccer final, the senior goalkeeper and the Eagles were matched up against a quick Willmar team.
"We knew they were a good team and they liked to shoot," De Kam said. "I knew they'd be quick, so I didn't want to be too quick to leave and to always be expecting every shot."
Through 67 minutes of Friday's game, neither team would find the net.
However, with 12:14 remaining in the game, Willmar's Bakar Aden scored what proved to be the game-winner in a 1-0 Cardinal victory.
"We never really got going very well," Southwest Christian head coach Leland Vanderaa said. "Willmar kept us off our game and we were just a step slow and a step late. We weren't aggressive and we watched other people. We just didn't play at the top of the game. Considering we hung in 1-0, you have to be quite pleased when you're off your game and you still do that well."
In Willmar's nine-year history, the Cardinals (13-8) had never qualified for the section finals, and will now represent Section 2 at the state tournament.
"It is a great feeling because five years ago, my first year here, we finished 0-17," Cardinals head coach Richard Courtney said. "So this is a great feeling. This team was tough all year, and we finally found ourselves late in the year in the final two weeks."
The Eagles (12-4) had nine shots on goal in the game, but each one was stopped by goalie Steve Kluver.
"The defense was solid," Kluver said. "In the last two games I haven't had to make hardly any saves. Badal Ali and Josh Wright have been super solid."
While Ali was critical in Friday's victory, he has been the spark for Willmar in the last two weeks, sending the fifth-seeded Cardinals to five consecutive victories.
"(In the last two weeks) we made a really important switch," Courtney said. We put (Ali) back at sweeper and he's been awesome back there. It's like he's played back there his whole life, and he's never played there as far as I know."
As an all-state honorable mention midfielder last year, Ali had seen enough this season after Willmar lost three consecutive games, giving up four goals in each contest.
"The funny part is that it was his suggestion," Courtney said. "Two weeks ago we had a couple of tough games where teams scored four goals off us, and he said, 'Coach, maybe I should try sweeper,' and we said, 'That's a good idea.' So we tried it and we beat Apollo and now we've won five straight since he's moved back there."
The Eagles had opportunities in the first half with four shots on goal, but each time, the Cardinal defense was able to make a play to keep a zero on the scoreboard.
"Our offense didn't quite click today," Eagle midfielder Kyle De Boer said. "But we worked hard and we had a few opportunities and we just didn't quite capitalize and find the goal."
However, the Cardinals had 10 shots and four shots on goal in the half. But just like their defensive counterpart, the Eagle defenders in front of De Kam made plays when they needed to as the game was tied 0-0 after 40 minutes of play.
"Our defense stepped it up and De Kam did really well in the goal," De Boer said. "He did a great job, as did Kendall (Stroeh) and the rest of the defense. They shut them down for the most part, except for the one time they broke through."
De Kam had a trio of saves to open up the second half, including a save on a one-on-one situation where De Kam came out from the goal to thwart the threat.
"We've worked on it all year because he wouldn't come out," Vanderaa said. "Today, he came out perfect and he did a nice job. So he's improved a lot. I would like to commend our sweeper, Kendall Stroeh, who did a tremendous job back there."
With 12:14 remaining, Aden snuck in a shot in the left side off a rebound to give Willmar a 1-0 cushion.
"I don't even know what happened on the goal," Courtney said. "The ball was kicked around and somehow went in. But Bakar was getting after it all game. His playing time went way up today because our leading scorer wasn't here. So he started and played almost the whole game."
SWC had a free kick late in the game, and Nicholas Pfeifle had a look with less than two minutes remaining, but both attempts were off the mark as the Eagles became desperate in the final minute.
With 40 seconds remaining, Pfeifle and the Eagles had a corner kick.
"I was just looking at the clock and hoping we get the ball out, that's all that I was doing," Courtney said. "They had two of them and I'm visualizing them getting a header because they are better out of the air than we are."
The first attempt went off Kluver, allowing another corner kick.
"I wasn't nervous; we had it in the bag," Kluver said of the corner kicks. "I don't know why, I just had a feeling that we were going to win that game."
Kluver's feelings came true as Tyler Van Schepen had a chance at a header, but Kluver was able to preserve the shutout and the Cardinal victory.
"I'm proud of our team; we worked hard," De Boer said. "We came through a lot this season and we did a lot as a team. I think we did really well with the team that we had and we made it a long ways."
As the sixth seed, SWC downed Fairmont 7-0 in the first round of the playoffs at home before defeating Worthington 3-0 on the road. The Eagles then bested Mankato West on penalty kick to advance to Friday's game.
"We just came through two very emotional games, so it's hard to come up with a third one in a row," Vanderaa said. "That's the problem with a six seed."
While SWC was able to come out on top in the previous three tournament games, the outcome was different Friday.
"We gave it our best shot, and unfortunately, we came up short," De Boer said. "But we have nothing to hang our heads about."