The scoreline was deceiving as Stegman’s Old Boys lost 2-0 in a pulsating encounter that was long on technical quality and intricate passing but short on finishing.
The Old Boys were faced with selection issues, as Dan Hoedeman, Alex Haueter and Jon Scott were all unavailable for Sunday’s clash with top-of-the-table River Otters at Arlington Park. A like-for-like switch saw William Reynolds brought in to replace Hoedeman, the Dutchman still reeling from a clash of heads last week. But to make up for the Haueter and Scott, more drastic measures were taken with the captain Jon Bisswurm moving to a sweeper role, Mark Schmidt taking up position wide on the right and Dan Erickson moving to the left wing.
The game started brightly for both sides, each team comfortable in possession and able to work the ball into dangerous areas. It was a game of real quality as both sides tested the other and the play flowed from end to end.
The first real chance of the game fell to River Otters, whose attack down the right brought an outstanding save from Ryan Horstman.
At the other end Cole Erickson, fantastic throughout in the center of the midfield, created space for himself and was unlucky to see his 20-yard piledriver carom off of the post and away.
Horstman was again called on, saving smartly from a well-struck shot from the right corner. Critically, with the away side’s forward lurking, Horstman held the shot and the danger was averted.
The chances were coming thick and fast, with Horstman outstanding in goal. At the other end, Mark Schmitt was effervescent on the right. Released by a good ball from Cole Erickson, Schmitt ran into space only to be clattered by the last defender. Nonplussed, he recovered to run onto the ball completely clear of the defense, only for the referee, dodgy throughout, to call back play. No thought of advantage. No red card for the challenge by the last man. Instead, only a chance-killing free kick. It was a poor exclamation point on a poor display from the referee.
Not thrown off their game by the bad decision, Dan Erickson was looking dangerous in possession on the left wing. And it was Erickson who carved open the next chance, beating his man, shimmying past the covering fullback and finding himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper. His tame shot, however, was easily smothered.
For such an open game, it was odd that the scoring would be opened from a set piece. A well-struck corner gave the River Otters striker a chance to nip in at the near post and just a touch was all he needed to make the game 1-0 to the away side.
Despite the setback, and despite going into halftime down a goal, Old Boys continued to play positively and press for the equalizer.
With Bisswurm marshalling the defense well, the River Otters threat was significantly dampened from the opening half. The technical quality of the captain also shone, with the Beckenbauer-like role neatly exploited to key the attack. And it was from a searching ball out of the defense that Schmitt created perhaps the best chance of the game.
Nifty footwork from the winger allowed Schmitt to dance through the opposition defense and find himself eight yards out with only the keeper to beat. A touch too many though and the danger was snuffed out. Still, it was a statement of intent and with Peichel starting to exert influence from right back the Old Boys were clicking.
With fifteen minutes left a tame attack by River Otters saw the ball played deep and wide into the box, too far out to be dangerous. And out of nowhere Horstman came, challenging the striker and not the ball and giving up the most disappointing of penalties. Disappointment was compounded when Horstman brilliantly saved the penalty twice, only for River Otters to finally tap home.
The SOBs continued to pressure to the final whistle, but they had left their shooting boots at home. Despite an excellent display, the best so far this season, they were undone.
The game could easily and justifiably gone either way, but it was the set pieces that were decisive.
Stegman’s Old Boys (4-4-2): Horstman, Erzberger, Savitt, Bisswurm, Peichel, D. Erickson, Reynolds, C. Erickson, Schmitt, Polukeyev, Tesch
Subs: Sindt, Gorrell, Larson, Overlie