The race for the final promotion spot is on and, as Sir Alex Ferguson would say, it’s squeaky bum time as no less than six teams are grouped within a few points of each other at the top. Stegman’s Old Boys are one of those teams, along with V-Hawks, FC St Paul, Blaine FC, Burnsville Fire and last night’s opponent, Coon Rapids Fire.
“We knew that we had a good team, but we weren’t expecting to be in this position” said Manager Jon Bisswurm. “So we’re playing with freedom, we’re playing with confidence and we’re hoping that we’re able to win some games over the next few weeks.”
The Blues started well and in truth had the better of the chances through a game that, while largely even, was shaded by the home side.
“We are still getting over the injury issues” said Bisswurm “I wasn’t 100%, Hoedeman wasn’t 100% and we were missing Tommy McCarthy, Paul Diegnau, Pete Manning and David Maier – not to mention George Hanscom. But this is a team that has gelled well and is so hot right now. A hot little potato.”A strong performance in midfield from Bisswurm and Sebastian Castro-Malaspina gave the Blues a possession advantage and, with Dan Hedstrom on form, they were carving good chances.
Coon Rapids were using their pace to look threatening, especially on the counter, but with Nathan Toldt and Chris Sturdy both playing blinders the Fire struggled to create anything other than half chances.It was from a half-chance, however, that they took the lead.
Stegman’s lost the ball with an aimless pass in midfield and the Fire right midfielder picked up. He strode forward with pace and, from some 30 yards out, fired a screamer of a shot past Brandon Overlie and into the side netting. It was a special goal.
The Blues, however, were undaunted and continued to keep possession and carve openings.
“It all started at the back for us” said Hoedeman “Toldt and Sturdy were doing a great job of staying calm under pressure and playing the ball forward while Travis Pennings was getting room on the left to play long diagonals. They keyed the entire team.”
It allowed the Old Boys to get numbers forward. Mike Logan worked hard on the flanks, interchanging passes with the central midfielders to create chances. But it fell to Jake Keeler to create the chance that led to the equalizer.
Keeler used his pace to get separation from his fullback and played a cross into the box. Hoedeman challenged the Fire defender and, in the scrum, both fell to the ground. Hoedeman had his wits about him however and swiveled while in a sitting position to set up Castro-Malaspina at the top of the box. The French-Peruvian-American-New Jerseyan with the long name made no mistake, rifling a low shot into the corner.
“All I was thinking was ‘don’t hit it over'” said Castro-Malaspina “I didn’t even take a second touch. Didn’t need to, I suppose.”
Though they remained on the front foot, again the Blues were undone. And again the cause was a loose pass in the middle.
After giving up the ball, the Old Boys were under the cosh from a Fire counterattack. Bisswurm laid in an industrial tackle to win the ball, but was only able to play it wide into the path of an onrushing attacker. The visiting player knocked an early cross into the box where it was met with a glancing header from their striker and just floating into the goal off of the inside of the post.
Luck was clearly on their side.And even more so shortly after. The Blues won a free kick in a dangerous position, albeit softly, and Bisswurm delivered a pinpoint cross onto the head of Hedstrom who made no mistake.
Despite being clearly onside from every angle, it was called back for offsides.
“That happens sometimes” said Bisswurm “but it was still a terrible call. The referee – the worst of a very bad crew, one we’ve seen all too often this season – got a bit of the hairdryer treatment, but at least I didn’t kick a boot at his face.”
The second half was more open as the Old Boys pushed numbers up in search of a goal.
“We struggled a bit with possession compared to the first half and were far more open, but that’s the risk when you’re down a goal and chasing the game” said Hoedeman.
Hoedeman had a number of chances to level the scores, but was unable to trouble the goalkeeper.
Sean Webb was playing well, finding space between the lines, and he embarrassed a fullback with a cheeky nutmeg before seeing his floating chip reaching by the desperate dive of the Coon Rapids goalkeeper. Still he, Hedstrom and Logan were probing the opposition defense, stretching them to the limit.
Time was not on their side, but confidence was. So when, in the 86th minute, Sean Webb stepped up to take a free kick from 20 yards out there was no surprise when he ripped a bending shot around the wall and into the net.
“A draw was the least we deserved” said Webb “we owned those guys. At least we get to play them again.”
Stegman’s Old Boys (3-5-2): Overlie, Sturdy, Toldt, Pennings, Thomas, Bisswurm, Warner, Castro-Malaspina, Logan, Hedstrom, Peichel
Subs: Hoedeman, Vo, Keeler