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Unbelievable: Trojans soccer team tastes victory in state quarterfinals, has it taken away in a shootout

A shootout, after a cruel, almost surreal finish to the second half, ended in a devastating loss for the Worthington High School boys soccer team Thursday night in Waconia.

WACONIA -- A shootout, after a cruel, almost surreal finish to the second half, ended in a devastating loss for the Worthington High School boys soccer team Thursday night in Waconia.

With a mere five seconds remaining in a state Class AA quarterfinal match and the Trojans leading 1-0, the celebration was cued.

But fate intervened and the Willmar Cardinals scored on a free kick from 15 yards away, with a header. After two scoreless 10-minute overtime periods, the Section 6 champions out-shot Worthington to emerge with their improbable heart-stopping victory.

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Worthington headed into the game with a perfect 19-0 record and Willmar, too, was undefeated at 17-0-2. On a cold day under a constant drizzling rain, some of the Trojans were inconsolable after the result, unable to speak. Others summoned the courage to talk about their misfortune.

“It was terrible. But we did all we could and it just ended like this,” said senior defender Dalen Gonzalez. “All that hard work all went down the drain.”

“It’s devastating to go out like that,” said senior Isaiah Noble, his eyes reddened. “After all we’ve done, but it’s how it went.”

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“It just comes down to fate,” summed up senior midfielder Ulises Barrera, who scored what might have been the winning goal with 6:21 to go in the second half.

Up until Barrera’s goal, scored from the left side from a difficult angle on a perfectly-placed shot to the right corner of the Willmar net, it appeared that this bout between two evenly-matched teams was bound to be won on one kick. Leading 1-0 late in the game, Worthington had put itself in a great position. The Trojans had allowed a total of only five goals the entire season, and when you give them an opportunity to lean on their defense they always prevail.

But this night was different.

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102821 N DG Worthington vs Willmar Cardinals State S3.jpg
Worthington Trojans Ulises Barrera (13) and Elmer Guzman (23) battle to win the ball against Willmar's Anthony Reyes Jimenez during the state Class AA boys soccer quarterfinals. Tim Middagh / The Globe

As the game clock wound down to five seconds, Willmar’s Anthony Reyes Jimenez lined up for a free kick situated on the sideline about 15 yards away from the WHS net. A mass of players from both sides, jockeying for position, bunched together as close to the goal as they could get. The shot went up, it fell onto a small group of Cardinal players, and senior Abdullahi Mohamed managed to head it into the middle of the net.

“Well, I was just shocked that there was, like, a guy just pushed three of our players and they didn’t call it, so whatever,” said Barrera afterward. “I saw the ball go in and, whatever. So it just went in.”

The Trojans came out confidently in overtime.

“Yeah, we thought we had it,” Gonzalez said.

Then came the shootout. In a shootout, both teams get five shots on goal, directly in front of the goal, with a goalkeeper in front of them hoping to make a save. The team that scores the most goals wins.

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Gonzalez was the first player to shoot. He scored on the right side of the net.

Willmar’s Jorge Velasquez was next. He, too, scored on the right side against WHS goalkeeper Osmin Pineda.

Barrera then scored on the right side.

Gabriel Rodriguez then scored for Willmar on the right side, tying the shootout at 2-2.

But Worthington’s Santo Orellana’s kick was too high.

Mohamud’s shot on the right side went in. It was 3-2 Willmar.

Worthington’s top scorer, sophomore Jonathan Banegas, answered with his own goal, tying it at 3-3.

Diego Gonzalez then scored for the Cardinals, putting them ahead again at 4-3.

But Trojan senior Menkem Mehri had his kick blocked by Willmar goalie Edwin Lopez. The match was decided.

Overwhelmed and stunned

“I feel so bad for our team,” said Trojans head coach Juan Flores. “But you know, penalty kicks. What it comes down to, it’s a 50-50 shot. You know, we got the short end of it, and congrats to Willmar. But we were ready for them. We were ready for them. We just got unlucky at the end.”

Willmar head coach Jeff Winter praised the tenacity of his players, who qualified for state in similar fashion, with a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over Princeton in the Section 6 championship.

“I’m pleased. I’m overwhelmed. I’m stunned. Super happy. Both teams played hard and our game plan was to press No. 8 (Mehri) and No. 13 (Barrera) to keep their high-scoring offense down. It worked. They got a nice goal late and ours was really late.”

He was asked if he thought it was all over inside the final minute of regulation.

“I might have normally,” he said, “but with our win last week having the same kind of thing, I never give up on these guys. ‘Cuz they play hard to the end, all 80 minutes.”

Winter praised the Trojans, too.

“They were more (than I expected). They were better than I even thought. I knew they were good. I mean, 19 and oh, that doesn’t just happen. They’re all-around. They don’t have any weaknesses. It’s a shame it ends in penalty kicks. It doesn’t always show the best team, but we’ll take the win. But they’re an admirable foe,” he declared.

In the lead-up to the state tournament, the Worthington boys soccer team captivated the town, and then some. The Trojans were featured in a KELO-TV segment on the morning of Thursday’s game, and the Star-Tribune’s Pat Reusse -- the dean of Minnesota sports columnists -- wrote about them.

Barrera fought through the pain of Thursday’s shocking loss and found something that lasts. “We did good (this year). We made everybody proud in our community. That’s all that matters,” he said.

“I think Worthington’s on the map,” said Flores, “and I think we’ll be back.”

Related Topics: SOCCER
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