Aspen survive late scare against Coal Ridge
The Aspen Times
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
ASPEN, Colorado ” As temperatures plummeted, the pressure on the Aspen defense soared.
Coal Ridge pushed the ball deep in the Skiers’ end in the waning minutes of Monday night’s game, repeatedly pelting Aspen goalkeeper Alex Owen with shots in an attempt to produce the equalizer. With seconds remaining, the Titans turned a botched Skiers run into an 5-on-2 break the opposite way and scored what appeared to be the tying goal. The connection was negated by an offsides call, however, and Aspen escaped with the 1-0 victory in its regular-season finale.
“It was way too close,” said Aspen sweeper Murphy Fyrwald. “They really capitalized on an opportunity, and we just weren’t ready for it.”
The home sideline eagerly awaited the whistle as Aspen pushed the ball across midfield in the final seconds. After a tense few minutes in which Coal Ridge narrowly missed on multiple shots from close range, it looked as if the Skiers were in the clear as they pushed the ball across midfield.
Not so fast.
A Titans defender picked off a lazy pass, starting a 5-on-2 break the other way. One Coal Ridge player dribbled right up the middle of the field, then passed off to a wide open Ryan Zelenka streaking up the left side. Zelenka wound up and fired low to beat a diving Owen as the Titans’ bench erupted.
That joy turned into dejection after Zelenka was whistled for being offsides and the goal was wiped off the scoreboard.
“We played like a team that needed to win and needed to score. The one time we did, it just didn’t count,” said Coal Ridge head coach Brian Blair, whose team is 0-5 in one-goal games this season.
“It would’ve been a heck of an overtime.”
It looked as if Aspen (9-5 overall, 7-4 3A Region 7) would bury the Titans early. With a playoff berth already assured, Skiers head coach Junior Sutherland acknowledged that, short of sending his 19 seniors off with a win in their final regular-season home game, motivating his team was difficult. Still, Aspen came out firing on a frigid night in which temperatures dipped into the 20s.
The Skiers pressured Coal Ridge goalkeeper Fernando Alvarado from the start and broke through in the 11th minute. Jesus Meza corralled a pass near midfield, then pushed the ball up the middle before dumping it off to Kyle Lusk on the right side. Lusk gathered the ball and lofted a shot that sailed over Alvarado’s outstretched fingertips and into the net.
Aspen went scoreless for the final 69 minutes.
“We had 18 shots [on goal] and only scored once. What can I say?” Sutherland said. “As soon as we scored the goal, I guess they thought it was enough.”
It nearly wasn’t. The Titans, looking for a repeat of Sept. 20’s game against Aspen in which they erased a two-goal first-half deficit, nearly squared the match in the 44th minute. Efrain Garcia shook free up the left side and fired a strong shot that Owen initially mishandled before smothering. Ten minutes later, Owens soared in a crowded box to corral a cross a few feet from the goal line.
“We haven’t scored the first goal in a game since the first game of the season,” Blair said. “That makes you work hard, but it also puts you in a hole. You have more pressure and you can’t play as free or loose.”
Despite an increase in pressure as time dwindled, Coal Ridge controlled the midfield for the bulk of the final 10 minutes. In the end, the Titans couldn’t break through as Aspen pulled out a third straight one-goal victory to close out the season.
The Skiers are 7-2 in one-goal games this season. That experience should prove beneficial going forward, players said.
“We learned that we can handle the pressure,” Fyrwald said. “We’re going into the playoffs with a lot of momentum.”
“Most of us have never been to the playoffs, so this is all new,” Owen added. “I’m excited to see how we do.”
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