Muskies lose nail-biter to Eagles

“You’ve got to go out there and play each game hard because that’s what the game deserves.” —Shane Beckett, head coach of the Muskie boys’ soccer team.
Soccer can be as good to you as two martinis at lunch or it can be harsher than a swig of Buckley’s. It can be as lovely as a ’67 Shelby basking on a highway on a Sunday afternoon’s sun, or more horrific than a “Discovery” documentary on a lion’s feeding habits.
The game known as “futbol” in most parts of the world is one of duality—it can be your best friend, or your worst enemy.
If you had been in Kenora last Wednesday afternoon for the NorWOSSA championships, you would have seen high school soccer in Northwestern Ontario played at its best.
It was the Muskies versus the Dryden Eagles, with the drama already having unfolded even before the two teams stepped onto the pitch.
The Eagles had beaten the host Kenora Broncos 2-0 earlier in the day and would be crowned the NorWOSSA champs if they upended the Muskies.
The black-and-gold, on the other hand, needed a win to keep their league title hopes alive.
Beckett, in his first year as head coach of a team that went undefeated during pre-season action, wisely chose not to tell his players the result of the Dryden-Kenora game—suggesting it was information that wasn’t needed.
The Muskies opened the game by gaining possession of the ball and had the wind helping them on a field sloppy from the continuous rain that forced most of the spectators to tuck their hands into the pockets and hoist their hoodies over the heads (if they were smart enough to have a jacket that had a hoodie).
Muskie keeper Kurtis Carlson easily handled the game’s first shot and would see Niels Nijssen nicely trap the ball in the high midfield and put a pass through the Dryden defence for Craig McTavish, who was just a hair offside.
But the ball would return into the Muskie zone and Carlson would get jammed after a deflection put the ball only 10 feet from the goal line with the whole net to shoot for.
But Mitch Green played the part of “Casper the Friendly Ghost” to step out of seemingly nowhere and make a stop that warranted a hug from Carlson once the ball was cleared away.
“Walking in, they had a silent confidence,” Beckett said of his players. “[But] once that first whistle went, they were playing a little tight for those first few minutes and Dryden came close a couple of times.”
The Muskies started to gain some momentum after Chris Plett capped a great run with a shot that just missed the far post, then came a loose ball in Dryden’s 18-yard box that almost went in on an Eagle player’s head.
Dryden also didn’t help themselves as they demonstrated poor clearances that gave the Muskies almost immediate control whenever the Eagles took a goal kick.
“Anticipate—don’t react,” Plett could be heard yelling from his midfield position on the pitch.
Plett would heed his own words and find McTavish 25 minutes into the first half from midfield, who then relayed the ball to a streaking Nijssen, who neatly snugged the ball into the net.
“He [Nijssen] plays a heck of a game,” Beckett said of the Muskies’ leading scorer this season who is a exchange student from The Netherlands. “This isn’t just a game to him, this is his life.
“But we can’t forget about the fact that there are 10 other guys that are helping him to get the ball and finish,” he added.
The defence led by Chris Faragher, a fifth-year Muskie, started to play well and that prompted the Muskies to garner a number of scoring chances. Only a tremendous play by a Dryden defender kept the ball from going into the net late in the half to preserve the 1-0 score.
“They’re tired and they’re outhustled,” Beckett told his team during halftime. “It’s do-or-die. Forty-five minutes left. You’ve got to keep the pressure on. You’re all over them, but you’ve got to maintain it.
“There’s no tomorrow if we don’t win. Leave it on the field,” he stressed.
Unfortunately, the impervious looking Muskie defence of Sean Wiersema, Chad Faragher, Chris Faragher, and Green broke down 15 minutes into the second half.
A shot by Dryden from inside the Muskies’ box went off Chad Faragher’s arm. It seemed that his arms were by his side, which usually would suggest a “ball to arm” that wouldn’t result in a penalty.
But the referee saw it otherwise and awarded the Eagles a penalty kick, which they converted.
“It was kicked right at him and his hands were in and not out, so it wasn’t intentional and it should’ve been a simple call,” said Chris Faragher. “It was a garbage goal.”
A intensely-played half finished with the score knotted at 1-1 so extra time would be needed.
“Who wants it more? That’s what it is all about right now,” Beckett told his players.
The Muskies were the obvious aggressors during the two 10-minute sudden death periods, but they couldn’t capitalize after spending too much time creating individual chances that allowed the Dryden defence time to set up.
“You’ve got to be sooner guys,” Beckett could be heard saying.
So it was off to penalty kicks.
Nissan would be up first and easily converted his attempt, but so would Dryden on Carlson.
Next up for the Muskies was David Pierce, who provided valuable contributions during the game coming off the bench but would hit the crossbar.
Carlson then made a fabulous kick save to keep the score at 2-2.
Plett, who was two for three on penalty shots during the pre-season, then put the ball over the crossbar on his attempt.
The Eagles also would miss their next shot, which left just two shooters to go.
Carlson—the Muskies’ keeper—would be next up but a hesitation on his approach caused him to misfire.
Carlson then headed back into net and watched the ball sail away from his reach to give Dryden the 3-2 lead. Then a Scott McFayden misfire would send the Muskies crouched over in disgust while the Eagles sliced through the air in triumph.
“It was like two heavyweights slugging it out and you could see at the end how tired everyone was,” said Beckett. “That’s what [soccer] is all about.”
Is there anything he would have done differently?
“You hate to second guess yourself, but the only thing I’m going to second guess myself on until next season will be the choice of kickers at the end,” Beckett replied.
“We had a competition and I didn’t go with the top five guys, I went with four of those five,” added Beckett, who “couldn’t even watch” any of the shootout because he was so nervous and felt like he was “going to throw up.”
The Muskies, who had won the last four NorWOSSA titles, were stunned by the loss.
“It’s kind of like, ‘What the hell? This shouldn’t be happening,’” said Chad Faragher.
The Muskies still had to face the host Broncos less than 90 minutes later to determine the silver medalists. And despite their disappointment, the black-and-gold played the game in a way that spoke volumes about their character.
“I hope we’ve taught the guys enough about pride and unity and sacrifice that they keep their head and they go out there to win,” said Beckett.
And win they did by a 3-0 score on goals by Arnold Bergner (an exchange student from Germany) Chris Faragher, and Nijssen.