For the second time in as many weeks, the Muskie boys’ soccer team was plagued with the penalty-kick bug late in the game. Only this time it eventually cost them NorWOSSA gold.
Leading 1-0 on a Steve Keesic goal just two minutes into the game on an indirect kick from about 20 yards out, the Muskies looked to be well on their way to the NWOSSAA championship in Thunder Bay.
And while the black-and-gold didn’t score again, the Muskies continued their fine play for the rest of the first half and well into the second.
Then came “the call.”
After keeper Jordan Roy mishandled the ball near his goal with nine minutes to play, he was penalized for holding an Eagle player who was trying to get at the loose ball.
Although the Muskie coaches said it was the proper call, the end result was a penalty kick that the Dryden player made no mistake on—knotting the game at 1-1.
The Eagles then won the game in overtime when they banged home a rebound off a wild scramble in front of the Muskie goal.
It was a bitter loss for the black-and-gold, who crashed and banged with the much bigger Dryden team for every loose ball—and actually outplayed the Eagles for much of the game, especially in the first half.
Quite simply, they deserved a better fate.
“I said to our kids ‘It was our best game of the year’ and we had [Dryden] off their game,” said head coach Keith Gilbert. “It was unfortunate we couldn’t capitalize on more chances and we had a couple of bad breaks and they finished them.
“If we weren’t first to the ball, then we were right on someone. Our guys just ran and ran,” he added.
Despite the loss, Gilbert said he was very pleased with his team’s performance right through the season. Not blessed with an enormous amount of talent, this year’s squad improved tremendously since the opening game.
“We can’t be disappointed with the season—it was an excellent season,” he enthused. “Some guys improved so much during the course of the season. So many kids played so well.
“We outplayed [Dryden]. We deserved to win but the final score is what matters,” Gilbert added. “[But] I’m not disappointed in the game or the season.”
Assistant coach Jason Kabel said they won’t hang their heads because they played so well in the final. “It’s done and we have to live with it. We have to take our ups and downs,” he noted.
“It was our best game of the year and we said to them before the game that ‘It was time to play Muskie soccer’ and they played hard and they were first to the ball for most of the game and that’s crucial to soccer,” he stressed.
“In soccer, sometimes you throw up the cards and see where they fall,” he explained.
On the other hand, the Muskies might have been guilty of sitting on the lead—at least subconsciously—against the Eagles.
“We told them not to sit back but I think soccer players internally say, ‘OK, we’re now up and we want to try to score goals but I think I’m going to play my guy more defensively,’” reasoned Gilbert.
The Muskies advanced to the final with an easy 4-0 win over Red Lake in the semi-finals earlier Thursday. They also had no trouble in pool play, breezing to a 3-0 record to finish in top spot.
Their toughest test came in their very first game last Wednesday morning against those very same Eagles. Only in this one, the Fort eked out a 2-1 victory on penalty kicks before reeling off impressive wins over St. Thomas Aquinas (Kenora) 5-2 and Sioux Lookout 7-0.
Gilbert admitted it would have been a nice mark on the season if they would have repeated as NorWOSSA champs.
“It would have been a rewarding finish to retain NorWOSSA gold,” said Gilbert, whose teams have been in the final three of the last four years, winning twice.
And the black-and-gold’s soccer future looks particularly strong with talented offensive players like Jeff Savage, Adam McTavish, and Keesic back in the mix to join younger players such as Jamie Algie, Daniel Robinson, and Jeremy Wilson.
True, they will lose some of their top players in Terry LaBelle, Jordan Roy, Colin Wielinga, and Josiah Morris but Gilbert sees a strong influx of players coming through the ranks of the local youth soccer league that will help fill those voids.
In fact, Gilbert sees a bright future ahead for the Muskie soccer program.
“Every year you lose veterans and you see new faces to replace them but there’s a lot of grade eights coming up that I hear are going to be some very good players,” he remarked.