As fleet of foot as the Cottage Grove boys soccer team is, this season has seen them struggle to get out to fast starts. This continued last Tuesday when the Lions (6-0-1, Sky-Em 5-0) hosted Junction City and despite a slow start defeated the Tigers (1-6-1, Sky-Em 1-3-1) 3-0 with all three goals coming within 15 minutes at the end of the first half.
In the early going, it was Junction City that was playing like the better team. They disrupted any flow from Cottage Grove and controlled possession. By the 20th minute, the Tigers had created chances and Colton Ditlefsen had twice worked into the box for some near misses.
“These guys are just slow in starting, I guess,” said head coach Vern Stewart. “And eventually they get it together.”
It was at the end of the first half when the Lions got it together.
In the 33rd minute, a Junction City turnover in their own half, the Lions got the ball to Konrad Raum who was able to take a touch at the edge of the 18-yard box and sent a shot to the upper left corner of the goal. The ball was deflected by Junction City’s goalie but found the back of the net to put the Lions up 1-0.
“Konrad had a nice goal,” said Stewart. “We talked about shoot[ing and] he shot. It wasn’t a perfect shot but the keeper made a mistake and it was a goal.”
After the goal, the Lions seemed to be playing with a little more energy as they maintained possession and were completing passes that had previously been off target.
With just three minutes left in the half, the half Jasper Nichols-Ferguson got a steal deep in the Junction City half. He found Kyle Conley who was momentarily dispossessed in the box. Conley stayed with it, won back the ball and struck the ball to the right side of the goal for a Cottage Grove score.
With the Lions up 2-0 with less than three minutes remaining in the half, their work was not done. Raum found Conley for a chance that just missed wide.
But with under ten seconds left in the half, Nichols-Ferguson passed wide to George Cervantes who was outside the 18-yard box on the left side of the goal. Knowing the clock was winding down, Cervantes immediately played the ball into the box where Kyle Browning put it away a moment before the clock struck zero.
The Lions went to the break up 3-0 with Stewart looking for the team to correct any bad behaviors that they played with in the opening 30 minutes of the game.
“At [halftime] I told them the score didn’t matter. I want to see you first to the ball, talking, movement, all the things that they know how to do,” said Stewart. “And I told them to take shots. And if it goes in, it goes in and if it doesn’t it doesn’t matter. 3-0, that’s a very good score.”
The second half, the Lions came out a different team. Now with a comfortable lead, they controlled the game with possession and poised passing. They created a handful of chances in the second half that saw Raum, Conley and Browning all get close to scoring a second goal but were unable to get past the keeper.
Thursday the Lions went on the road and beat Sweet Home 5-1.