NEW PRAGUE -- Here’s the thing about the 2021 Worthington High School boys soccer Trojans: You might be able to play with them for 20 minutes. If you’re lucky, you might be able to play with them for 40 minutes. But you can’t hang with them for a full 80.
The Trojans, unbeaten and seeded No. 1 in the Section 2AA tournament, outscored second-seeded Mankato West 4-0 in the second half to win 4-0 Tuesday night at New Prague High School, pushing their season record to 19-0 and earning a berth in the Minnesota state tournament.
Too quick, too talented, and too indefatigable, the red and black-clad Worthingtonians were simply too much for the white-clad Scarlets in the second half as Elmer Guzman, Jonathan Banegas, Dalen Gonzalez and Menkem Mehri scored goals in the final 40 minutes and the Trojans’ defense -- like it had this fall season so many times before -- proved impenetrable.
The third-ranked Class AA team in the state will play their first state tournament game Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday at a location and an opponent to be determined on Saturday.
“It feels amazing. We just waited so long. I love this feeling,” said Mehri after the awards ceremony. “We deserve what we have. We believed in us when nobody did.”
The Trojans were undefeated and seeded No. 1 in last year’s section tournament, and they were devastated after being beaten 1-0 in overtime by Bloomington Kennedy in the finals in Worthington. They dedicated themselves to finishing the job in 2021, and they did.
“When we lost that, to be honest, that hurt so much. It felt like somebody died,” Mehri said.
In Tuesday’s finale against the best team the Trojans had faced this season, Mankato West withstood Worthington’s offensive pressure for the first half. But the relentless Trojans drew first blood with 33:32 remaining in the second half as Guzman, a senior attacker, directed a header into the West goal after a free kick from the sideline was booted his way.
“I can’t describe it. It’s something amazing to score in the final,” Guzman said.
“I know that we have a strong team. Whenever we score a goal, our mentality goes up. And we go even harder,” he explained. “We work hard every single day. This is our year since the beginning. We have a great defense. I feel so good about our team.”
The Trojan defense has been outstanding all year, having allowed just five goals through the entire season thus far. When the No. 1 seed put its first point on the board, the Scarlets’ job became even more difficult. Goalkeeper Osmin Pineda was peerless on Tuesday, and he had all the help he needed from teammates who seldom allowed the Scarlets to apply pressure.
Worthington’s second goal, following a perfectly-placed forward pass to the team’s top scorer this season, Banegas, was an easy point for him from 20 yards out. The West goalie, Drew Smook, had stopped several WHS goals up to that point by aggressively leaving the net to deflect would-be goals before they could be attempted. But he was too late in getting to the speedy Worthington sophomore.
At 11:41, Gonzalez made two free kicks from 12 yards away directly in front of the West goal. He had to do it twice. The first kick was placed on the wrong spot.
With just 45 seconds remaining in the game, Mehri made it goal number four.
“They were tired (in the second half),” Mehri said about the Scarlets. “They weren’t ready for our conditioning. We run, we run hard. We weren’t tired, they were tired. So we just kept playing.”
Mehri couldn’t resist tweaking the Scarlets a bit, noting that West consistently refuses opportunities to schedule games with Worthington during the regular season.
“This is why,” he said. “They don’t want to get smacked.”
After Tuesday’s section final, Mankato West head coach Dan Blaisdell predicted the Trojans will do well in the state tournament. But he wasn’t entirely happy with his own team’s performance in the 4-0 loss.
“I just felt we had to compete and show up,” he said. “We did for a half, and we didn’t in the second. I just felt they had the momentum after that first goal. … After we go down 1-0 … you gotta get the goal back. And to be honest with you, I don’t think we had our best game. They’re a team with an identity. They got the early goal and we couldn’t do very much after that.”
Throughout the season, Worthington head coach Juan Flores kept pressing his team to get better, telling them they must never become complacent. But, in reality, his players were determined, themselves, to push their God-given advantages at all times.
“It started from last year,” Flores said. “They had that chip on their shoulder, and they wanted to be back this year. They were, and this year the ‘W’ is on our side.”
Mankato West, he said, was a worthy opponent.
“We knew they were going to be physical. We knew the guy they looked to, No. 4 (Caspar Olseth), and we did a good job on him the whole game long. I think the first half was very competitive. The second half was competitive, too. I think we came out and we had more energy. And that’s what helped,” Flores explained, adding, “I am so proud of these kids, because I know how hurt they were last year when they lost one to zero. It’s so surreal.”
Worthington 0 4 -- 4
Mankato West 0 0 -- 0