In 2017, Trojans gained first-ever state soccer berth
EDITOR’S NOTE: In October of 2017, the Worthington Trojans high school boys soccer team qualified for its first-ever Minnesota state Class A tournament, beating Mankato East 3-1 in the Section 2A title game. While spring sports remain on hold, The Globe is reprinting selected articles from great sports moments of the past. Today’s story (condensed), which appeared in the Oct. 21, 2017 issue of the Daily Globe, celebrates the Trojans’ historic soccer win.
NEW PRAGUE -- The first half ended in a 0-0 tie, but the Worthington Trojans boys soccer team wasn’t worried.
Why would it be? The Trojans compiled a 17-0-1 record and the No. 1 seed on the way to Thursday’s Section 2A championship at New Prague High School, and they weren’t going to let a third-seeded team like Mankato East stand in the way of the school’s first Minnesota state soccer berth ever.
Worthington defeated Mankato East 3-1 on a turf field on a pretty October day of mild sunshine, and after the game ended the players celebrated like there was no tomorrow. WHS will play its first game of the Minnesota state Class A tournament next week Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday against an as-yet unnamed opponent, to be determined through a seeding process today.
Till then, however, there’s still time to celebrate. But only to a point.
“It’s what I wanted since I was a freshman. I am where I wanted to be, but I ain't done yet. I want a state title,” said junior defenseman Chris Cerda.
Veteran head coach Smitty Ektnitphong talked about many things after the final seconds ticked away Thursday night. But he, too, took a look ahead.
“I really like our chances as much as anybody else,” he declared.
The first half of Thursday’s Mankato East/Worthington showdown was fairly evenly played. Worthington had an excellent chance to score with about three and a half minutes remaining when Edwin Hernandez made a nice pass to Victor Alvarez, who narrowly missed a sharp poke on the left side of the East net. Then East returned the favor as Suleiman Haji, with a free kick from about 35 yards out, just missed to the left with about a minute and a half remaining.
In the first half, East might have had a slight advantage.
“They won the coin toss and they elected to play with the wind at their back,” said Ektnitphong. “That’s really the only thing that we lost. We lost the coin toss.”
In the second half, with the win in Worthington’s favor, senior Kevin Gutierrez broke the scoreless tie on a 30-yard free kick with 33:22 to go. Situated directly in front of the Cougars’ goal, Guitierrez lofted the ball above the head of the goalkeeper, who got a hand on it. But it trickled off and across the scoring line.
At the 22:45 mark, Worthington junior forward Jon Keodouangsy -- Minnesota Class A’s most prolific scorer this season -- gained possession of a free ball and put himself in a position one-on-one against the East goalkeeper. Keodouangsy’s deft footwork caused his defender to fall down to the turf, so he flicked the ball into an open net about seven yards in front. …
“It’s been in our system for a long time. We had some unfinished business. I guess our unfinished business is over, we’re going to state,” said Keodouangsy after the trophy was presented to the team.
“It feels very good,” said Alvarez. “Last year we lost the final, and we needed to win this game because it was important to us and the school.”
“It feels amazing just to win the section finals and to be the first Worthington team to win the section finals,” testified Keodouangsy.
“We started off slow. But we knew there were 40 minutes in the second half,” said Cerda. “We knew that when we take our lead, do not lose our focus.”