Roaring Fork Rams fall to Liberty Common in semifinals
ENGLEWOOD — As the Roaring Fork and Liberty Common boys soccer teams got ready for the second period of sudden death to begin, the Liberty Common goalkeeper could be seen practicing his diving saves on the sideline.
He and his teammates must have had a feeling those skills were going to come in handy Wednesday night.
After 110 minutes of gameplay and no goals, the Rams and Eagles battled their way to penalty kicks in a defense-minded game.
And when it came down to the final kick, Liberty Common’s goalie saved the day.
Roaring Fork ultimately fell 2-1 in penalty kicks in the semifinals of the Class 3A boys soccer playoffs to the defending state champion and ninth-seeded Liberty Common, ending the Rams’ furthest state run ever. The Rams, seeded No. 4 in the bracket, finish their season 15-2-1 overall.
In the quarterfinal round at Carbondale, Rams head coach Nick Forbes said his team scraped by — advancing to the semis 1-0 on a Salida own goal — but it was a different story Wednesday night.
“Today, it was nice to see us get back to our level of play,” Forbes said of the semifinal game played at the neutral Englewood High School site. “… We knew coming in it was going to be a pretty uphill battle, and I’m just so proud of my boys cause I feel like we matched them head-to-head. I don’t think there was a whole lot of difference between the two teams.
“I think on any given day, a different bounce there and a different bounce here and I think we win this game.”
In the penalty kick session, the Rams had a 1-0 lead after senior Max Candela nailed the ball into the right corner of the net. The next two shots were misses before a Liberty Common player scored on the left side.
Three more misses followed after the goalies made strong saves, before another Eagles player got the ball into the right side of the goal.
Roaring Fork junior Dylan Webster had the last shot and the ball went off the goalie’s hands and hit the right goalpost to bounce away and seal the win for Liberty Common.
“We looked kind of strong at the beginning of the penalty kicks and then the keeper made some great saves,” Forbes said, “and that’s the way the ball bounces.”
Early in the game, the Rams had good passes and were patient with the ball. They had solid chances to score, notching nine shots on goal in the first half while holding the Eagles to four, but they couldn’t capitalize on those chances.
Then the tide turned in the second half as Liberty Common dominated possession. The Eagles took seven shots on goal, but luckily Roaring Fork senior goalkeeper Leo Loya made all seven saves.
“He’s always been a rock for us,” Webster said of Loya. “ … Being a goalie, he has to be super vocal and control our D and our whole team, and he’s very good about that. We all look up to him a lot and I think he’s one of our best players, a key player.”
The first 15-minute sudden death had the two teams evenly matched for the first few minutes. But Liberty Common had a couple close shots that almost ended the game.
With 1:24 left in the period, a long penalty kick from Liberty was caught in the air by Loya, and about a minute later another Eagles penalty kick was blocked by the body of a Rams defender.
The second sudden death period was much of the same despite a last-second chance for Roaring Fork. After a shot by the Eagles, the Rams took the ball down to their end of the field and battled with Liberty until it went out of bounds, setting up a corner kick.
However, time was ticking and with just 5 seconds remaining. The corner kick sailed into striking distance, but the ensuing kick went high above the goal.
“I think we had really good moments of playing and I think that they did as well,” Webster said. “… I think overall we played a really good game and I think everyone put in all the effort that they could and it was just a close game with really close teams.”
Forbes said that, despite not making it to the finals, his players should be proud of the end result, even if it is a hard pill to swallow right now.
“We’re pretty proud of how far we got,” Forbes said. “Semifinals is a good result. … It’s a pretty great experience for us and for these seniors.
“ … It’s a great way to kind of end their time together as a team, and I think these memories will stay with them forever.”
The game marked the end of a storied prep career for seniors Candela, Loya, Israel Olmedo, Will Rose, Liam Laird, Joe Salinas, Joel Vega, Aiden Sloan, Jorge Sandoval, Emanuel Madrigal, David Lucas, Remy Grimm, Mikel Mayo, and Ronald Clemente.
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