After the Westlake boys soccer team won the first game of the Doug Kuns era on Aug. 21 – a 2-0 win over North Royalton – the Demons began their first season of Great Lakes Conference play with a 4-0 shutout of Lakewood on Aug. 25.
The former Southwestern Conference rivals faced each other in the GLC for the first time since Westlake joined the conference this fall. Lakewood left the SWC for the GLC last season.
“For these guys, last year was a bit of a struggle getting to know each other with COVID and all the restrictions we had there,” Kuns said. “We’ve had a nice little offseason to implement the stuff and style of play we want to do. These guys work hard and they’re buying in. I’m proud of the effort from the whole team today.”
Lakewood (0-2) held its own with Westlake (2-0) for the first 10 minutes of play as the teams felt each other out. Shortly thereafter, the speed and physicality of the Demons took over and junior Cimi Halilaj struck first with an 11th-minute goal when Lakewood keeper Alex Baguma was caught away from the net.
Kuns, who is in his first year at the helm of the Demons following the retirement of longtime coach Mike Besu, said he was happy with the quick, aggressive play his team showed.
“We don’t ever want to get outworked,” Kuns said. “They came and played hard. Hot day today (and) we just started school so that slow start wasn’t unexpected. But the way they bounced back and settled in, I was really impressed with the effort.”
Westlake’s offense continued to threaten throughout the first half while the defense stifled chance after chance for the Rangers. Anytime Lakewood began to put a run together, it seemed a Demon was just a step behind the ball handler or would step just in front of an incoming pass.
“I felt that in transition we were good all game and putting pressure on them, but they do have a physical presence about themselves,” Lakewood coach Andrew Toth said. “They have some very physical forwards that are athletic and powerful. They started to pay dividends for sure.”
In the 35th minute, Westlake senior Basheer Alramahi scored his first goal to put the Demons up 2-0. Alramahi capped Westlake’s scoring in the 71st minute with a header off of a perfectly-placed free-kick cross from junior Justin Shreffler.
“Justin came up to me and told me that he was going to cross it in to me and I was looking for that chance,” Alramahi said. “Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that the left side was open. I tried my best to place it into the left side and it went in.”
Prior to Alramahi’s second goal, junior Jaden DeJesus looped a ball past Baguma on a free kick from 45 yards out.
Lakewood had three near scoring chances in the second half (64th minute, 69th and 71st), with the first two balls going wide left on right-side runs and the third being quickly saved by Westlake keeper Leo Zanotti.
While the Rangers couldn’t get on the board, Toth said chances like that are promising for a developing squad with a large age range (eight seniors, five juniors, three sophomores and seven freshmen).
“I think it proves to our guys that when we do the right things and move the ball side-to-side and start probing and playing simple, we can create good scoring opportunities,” Toth said. “We made some silly mistakes and that happens with a young, developing team. As we go forward through the season, I think things will improve for us for sure.”
Both teams will continue GLC play on Wednesday as Lakewood travels to Elyria Catholic and Westlake hosts Buckeye.
“Getting off to a little bit of a faster start, we talk about that,” Kuns said. “Trying to take advantage in the offense third, that’s what we try to do. That’s what we’ll continue to work on.”
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