Rarely has a scoreline been as deceiving as this, the Old Boys hitting the woodwork twice as often as they hit the back of the net on their way to a crucial 2-1 victory over Team Awesome that keeps the Old Boys in control of their own destiny in the playoff qualification picture.
It was a beautiful Sunday at Arlington Park for the last home game of the season and there was palpable excitement in the forty-strong crowd before kickoff. The Old Boys were without a number of key players, with captain Jon Bisswurm out with a hairline fracture compounding a severely sprained ankle, Dan Hoedeman was suspended and Cole Erickson, Ben Savitt, Dan Erickson and Justin Dzelzkalns remain long-term absentees, but clearly had the attitude of a team that expected to win.
As ever, the Old Boys started brightly. The visitors were immediately pegged back into their end with Jon Scott and Robby Peichel controlling the center of the midfield, and the general character of the game was set. The SOBs dominated possession and created chances while limiting Team Awesome to the very occasional counter-attack.
With the boys in blue controlling the ball it wasn’t long before the Team Awesome goalkeeper was tested, and he was quick off of his line to stop Graham Campbell after Campbell had been played in by Scott. Only a few minutes later, Aleksey Polukeyev worked an opening just inside the box and smacked his shot off the bar.
The chances were coming thick and fast, Campbell using his impressive pace to again break free and hit a venomous shot on target only for the goalkeeper to somehow see it to safety.
Bryan Larson then worked the ball down the right and put in a dangerous cross that fell to Nick Sindt only for Sindt to toe-poke the ball onto the post.
It was all one-way traffic and for the second game running the opposition could not get the ball out of their half. More intricate passing was on order, Matt Gorrell starting a sweeping move of six passes before Scott laid the ball off for “Handsome” Dave Tesch. The big man was at the top of his game, making a lovely move to get past his man and burst into the area before firing home to make it 1-0 to the good.
Even after the goal, the Old Boys did not let up. Polukeyev made himself space in the box but his shot hit the post, Peichel drove through the midfield and fired a scorcher to the top corner but the goalkeeper got a hand to it, Will Reynolds headed a corner onto the bar and out, and on it went until the whistle blew for halftime. The Old Boys were ascendant, but with only a single goal lead to show for it.
The second half saw continued dominance by the Old Boys, tempered only slightly by the increasing danger of the Team Awesome counter-attacks. Though rare, the pace of the opposition wingers was dangerous, particularly on the right, and both Mark Schmitt and Will Reynolds had to be alert to the danger.
Despite the balance of possession and all of the opportunities falling to the boys in blue, they again were stymied in front of goal. With each miss, Team Awesome seemed to grow in confidence and there was the feeling that perhaps they would grab a result.
After another Old Boys attack broke down in the final third, the opposition broke with speed down the right. Exploiting a slip by fullback Brandon Overlie, the opposition winger darted down the flank. Schmitt pulled over to cover, but was unable to stop the cross, which was met with a powerful header that crashed emphatically off of the underside of the crossbar and into the net. Ryan Horstman was left flailing and helpless, able only to pick the ball out from the back of the net.
It was a staggering blow, especially after such dominance. But the Old Boys were not to be undone and went maniacally off in search of an equalizer.
Chasing the game, the Old Boys switched to a back three and threw on another striker. That tactical move, coupled with the introduction of “Gorgeous” George Hanscom and the driving runs of Robby Peichel stretched the opposition defense but, with the minutes ticking away, the SOBs could not seem to make a breakthrough.
With a mere five minutes remaining and Team Awesome unashamedly putting all eleven men behind the ball, Hanscom received the ball at the top of the box and sent a defense-splitting pass to Peichel, who had burst into the box. Cavalierly, Peichel dispatched the ball past the keeper and into the back of the net, raising a single arm in celebration as the crowd exploded with relief and joy.
“Not that I felt like I had to make up for the penalty encroachment and red card thing from the Celtic game or anything,” said Peichel after the match, “it was more that I had decided that we were not going to lose this game. And also I wanted to make up for the penalty encroachment and red card thing from the Celtic game.”
The Old Boys ran out the remaining minutes to record a richly-deserved 2-1 victory and solidify their third place spot in the league table.
“For a long time it seemed like a game we had played before,” said Chairman Dan Hoedeman, “score early, dominate, not finish, give up a goal, draw. But this is the part of the season the separates the men from the boys. And we are not boys. Well, we are boys. Technically. But men is what I meant. We’re men. Whatever, you get my point.”
“From a tactical perspective, it was only when chasing the game that we needed to make any changes” said the Manager Jon Bisswurm, “which says that we’ve got things where they should be. Not bad for a team competing in its first league campaign with tactics gleaned from me creating a mock team of these guys in FIFA.”
Old Boys are back in action next Sunday in another playoff-critical clash against fourth-placed Centennial.
Stegman’s Old Boys (4-4-2): Horstman, Erzberger, Schmitt, Reynolds, Gorrell, Peichel, Scott, Haueter, Polukeyev, Overlie, Campbell
Subs: Sindt, Meiser, Tesch, Hanscom, Campbell, Larson