It's the type of win that can define a season.
We went into Merrill on Sunday needing only a win. Keeping in mind our loss at home earlier in the season, Lobos FC held the league advantage on head-to-head. Anything but a win would've meant needing some help from other WPASL clubs during the home stretch. Fortunately, that may not come to pass.
The sky opened up during warmups and dumped a whole bunch of rain on the guys. A little bit of weather was exactly what everyone needed. Since the game was on turf, the players had to worry about a slick surface and not a muddy one. The best news is that no one got caught by the turf monster.
The hosts opened the scoring with a wonderstrike from about 30 yards out. Their man turned, freed a bit of space, and just unleashed fury. Ed Nelson did all he could aside from turning into prime Kasey Keller to try and keep it out, but he could only pick it out of the net.
The lads responded well. We attempted to control possession, and when lanes in the center were blocked off, we created openings on the outside. Lobos could only clear their lines and prepare for another attack. Only on the rare occasion would they string more than three passes together.
Around the 34th minute, Dalton Hoepner played a direct ball into the opposition box. This ball had some serious hang time, making it difficult for their GK and defenders to judge whether or not it would hold in play. David Ripplinger used their indecisiveness as a weapon and latched onto the falling space object with a sublime first touch. He rounded two defenders and the GK on his way to coolly slotting the equalizer with his second and third touches.
He would then be responsible for the lead shortly into the second half. At about the hour mark, he took the Lobos RB on one-v-one and forced a rash tackle inside the box. The man went through Ripp, leaving the referee with only one call to make. Ripp then put it in from the spot to make it 1-2.
The lead wouldn't last long, however. It wasn't clear what happened, but a Lobos player was caught by one of ours in our box, causing the referee to make another penalty decision. Lobos' new forward scored from the spot only for it to be called back due to his teammate stepping into the box too early. That didn't seem to matter as he put away the second attempt in the same spot, low and to Nelson's left.
The decisive moment came in the in the 85th minute. Gage Espanet drove forward with the ball and unleased a low drive from just outside the area. It had enough pace and precision on it to beat the GK to his left, sending both the team and the bench into raptures. Everyone gathered at the bench; no doubt the visual of that was enough to demoralize the opposition.
Lobos now needed a goal in the last three minutes plus stoppage for a result, but they responded rather flatly. That would spell their demise as former Lobos defender turned Bateaux attacking midfielder Erickson Tepole iced it in the 89th minute. Having picked up a pass from Espy right outside the box, a shifty move freed up the space for him to drive into the box. He picked his spot and put a low shot in at the far post. The referee blew for full time after three minutes of stoppage time. The whistle brought to an end a hard-fought win for the Boats. The win takes us back to the top of the table and extends our winning streak to six matches. If we do our part, we might just stay there.
NOTE: We were scheduled to play Barron Soccer Team on Saturday, but following a shakeup in their organization, they has suspended operations and forfeited all remaining games in 2022.
GOALS: Ripplinger - 34' (Hoepner), 62' (pk); Espanet - 85'; Tepole - 89' (Espanet)
YELLOW CARDS: Hoepner - 87'
STARTING XI: Nelson, Bushendorf, Walters, Lopez, Solberg, Ripplinger, Hoepner, Smith, Xiong, Kreutzfeldt, Espanet
SUBS: Goodrie, Nunn, Tepole
DNP: Mullally (rest)
The starters from Merrill. Photo by Josh Ranft.