For a team that had started the season by going two games without surrendering a goal, the Maple Grove Red Dragons received a rude awakening moments into their Division 3 soccer contest with Ellicottville.
Awarded a corner kick just three minutes into the game, Ellicottville's Pat Snyder sent the ball into the box, where teammate Liam O'Rourke redirected it off his chest to Alex Steinbroner. Steinbroner then gained control of the loose ball amidst the Red Dragons' defense and beat netminder Kyle Richardson with a shot just inside the left post for the 1-0 lead.
"They went ahead on us and we were shocked," Maple Grove co-coach Jerry Pardue admitted, "because we practice those set plays (like corner kicks) a lot. So it was surprising."
Above, Nick Swanson of Maple Grove, left, moves the ball past Ellicottville’s Nick Lacroix during Thursday’s Division 3 boys soccer game. Below, Maple Grove’s David Meekins controls the ball behind teammate George Kerr, left, while Ellicottville’s Chris Wojtowicz moves in to defend. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photos by Rob Tucker
Sometimes, however, a setback - like, for instance, surrendering an early goal - is just what's needed to get a team going.
Trailing for the first time all season, Maple Grove responded by amping up the offensive pressure and locking down on defense.
For the final 87 minutes of play, the Red Dragons allowed Ellicottville just six more shots on goal while also tallying four goals of their own, including two in quick succession in the first half to regain the lead for good, on the way to the 4-1 victory.
The win improved Maple Grove's record to 2-0-1 overall and 1-0 in league while Ellicottville dropped to 1-3 overall and 1-1 in league.
"Absolutely (the first goal for Ellicottville got us going)," Pardue said, "but our goal as a team is always to attack, so we were never really out of it."
They got back into this one in a hurry.
Erik Olson tallied the equalizer 15 minutes later off a corner kick pass from teammate Riley Beaton. Not even two minutes after that, Andrew Lindstrom booted a free kick from 30 yards out towards the Eagles' goal and Nick Swanson, fending off multiple Ellicottville defenders, slipped the ball by diving goaltender Jeremy Bordini for the 2-1 advantage.
"Coming back down and tying it up was huge," Pardue said. "And then it was great to come right back and get the second goal in the scramble (in front of the net). They really swarmed the ball and hustled."
It was not surprising to Pardue that both goals were the result of free kicks.
"We concentrated on that this year," he explained. "The kids are older and we didn't have to worry about conditioning as much, so early on we could concentrate on set plays and set pieces. You saw that today. People don't practice those plays enough, but 65 percent of all goals in the (English Premier League) are scored off set plays, and that's something that we really pride ourselves on."
Armed with the one-goal advantage at half, Olson, after just missing a header a minute into the second half (the ball hit the crossbar), netted his second goal of the game - and fourth of the season - 10 minutes later when he received a pass from teammate Dominick Fabrizio inside the 18-yard box, shielded the defender from the ball with his back to the goal and then turning, volleyed the ball into the upper left corner of the net.
"He's one of our key players," Pardue noted.
With the game all but won, a little luck contributed to the fourth and final goal for the victors. Nathan Saar, from his own end, cleared the ball high into the air and towards the Ellicottville goal. But as Nick Lacroix went for the header deep in his own territory, he lost the ball in the sun and it tipped off the back of his head and into his own net.
Saar was awarded the goal, his first of the season.
Maple Grove will square off with non-league host Southwestern on Monday at 4:30 p.m. The two squads battled to a scoreless tie earlier this week.