For the first time as members of the Great Lakes Conference, the North Olmsted Eagles boys soccer team played host to the Bay Rockets on Oct. 6. And in a matchup between two teams and coaches that have a familiarity with each other, formed through years of offseason workouts and scrimmages, this game was a near-constant battle for that slight edge.
That was until the 69th minute when North Olmsted junior midfielder Gael Briones found an opening and made the most of it. With a barrage of Eagle attackers crowing the box and pressuring Bay keeper Alex Carras, the ball landed at Briones’ feet.
While clearing the ball away, Carras was caught briefly out of position. It was then that Briones took a low lining shot from about 25 yards out that found the back of the net and went on to be the deciding goal in the Eagles 1-0 win.
“I had to shoot it. It’s on top of the 18, I can’t pass it,” Briones said. “I shot it and it went in. It worked out. It’s a big win for us, everybody is happy.”
After the game, North Olmsted coach Chris Marsh said that he felt, based on the game’s tight margins throughout the match, the final score likely should have been 0-0. But for a team fighting for a chance to play in the GLC championship game, he’ll take a win any way he can.
“(Bay) shouldn’t have lost the game, I don’t think we should have won the game. It probably should have been a 0-0 game,” Marsh said. “We got a fortunate ball to come straight back to one of our more technical players,” Marsh said. “The shot was a deflection.”
It took more than 10 minutes for either team to start seeing real opportunities. But when that flood gate opened, Bay (10-2-2, 3-1 Great Lakes Conference West Division) rode the wave almost exclusively in the first half. The Rockets put continuous pressure on the Eagles (11-2, 3-1 GLC West), while North Olmsted’s back line fought – and succeeded – to limit dangerous Bay shots.
The Rockets had close calls in the 14th minute, 22nd, 24th and 28th, before a would-be go-ahead goal was called off for being offsides in the 30th minute. For the rest of the half, North Olmsted began creating its own looks. As the teams broke for halftime, Marsh’s message was to keep up that intensity.
“Plain and simple, (Bay) was destroying us in the midfield,” Marsh said. “They were playing with five guys in the midfield to our four. We were trying to play through the midfield and they were winning every single ball. I said, we have to bypass, find our two wide players – the most dangerous balls we play in the first half were from our right back to our left back – and to look to play balls in behind them.
“Bay does a really good job of staying compact,” Marsh added. “That space is really difficult to play through.”
North Olmsted heard that loud and clear as the pressure flipped like a light switch coming out for the final 40 minutes. The Eagles’ aggressive attack netted them numerous corners and free kicks through the first 20 minutes.
Even after Briones’ goal in the 69th, however, neither team took their foot off the gas. The Rockets created two near opportunities in the 75th, and had two more threatening shots missed left in the 77th and 79th minutes.
“We felt comfortable on possession and, I think, in the second half, we lost our head,” Bay coach Bobby Doughtery said. “We got upset with the officiating instead of saying, ‘Let it go, on to the next one.’ That’s the tough part. We’re organized, we’re a good side, so make them beat us, not the official.
“You can’t blame the officials for the game, we had plenty of time to score,” Dougherty said. “But we lost our head. We wanted to do some double duty with the officiating and playing, which never works out.”
Despite being handed just his second loss on the season, Dougherty was not at all down after the game and didn’t want his team to get down on themselves either.
“We felt that if we got one, we could own the game,” Bay coach Bobby Dougherty said. “We would have forced them to really come at us which would have meant, now we can play. We’re playing these quality schools like a North Olmsted, and it’s not to get wins, it’s to get ready for the playoffs. Winning a game 8-0 doesn’t help us, but this helps us.”
Both teams now finish their regular season with conference matches tonight – North Olmsted travels to Elyria Catholic while Bay hosts Westlake. After that comes the Great Lakes Conference championship game where the top team from the East and West divisions play, with the second-place teams, third-place teams and so on also playing each other.
If the Demons win tonight’s match over the Rockets, they’ll meet East winner Buckeye for the title on Saturday at a time and location yet to be determined. If there’s a tie atop the West, a winner will be determined by goal differential.
“It puts your juggernaut into the Westlake game,” Doughtery said. “What it comes down to is, Westlake comes to us and we have to put a whooping on them to even make this entertaining. It will be very interesting.”
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