Roaring Fork tops Aspen in soccer thriller | AspenTimes.com

Roaring Fork tops Aspen in soccer thriller

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – The Roaring Fork soccer team was given new life. Midfielder Neiby Vargas took full advantage.

After Aspen’s Jessis Andrade was whistled for a keeper violation, Vargas lined up for a short free kick with little more than a minute remaining in Thursday’s game at Aspen. His team trailed, 2-1.

“I was kind of nervous. I thought I would miss it,” Vargas admitted. “They were all up on the line. I saw the top part [of the goal], and shot it.”

The line-drive shot clipped the top-left corner of the net, causing the Rams sideline to erupt. Four minutes into the first overtime, Vargas beat Andrade for a third time, clinching a dramatic 3-2 victory in a game that featured two of the 3A Western Slope’s 2008 playoff teams.

“It was topsy-turvy. That would be the way to describe that game,” said relieved Roaring Fork coach John Ackerman. “Neiby looked at the wall and knew where to put it. His pace was perfect. That brought us back to life.”

The Rams struck first in a game marred by inconsistent play and missed opportunities. A Roaring Fork forward pushed the ball deep into the Skiers’ zone in the eighth minute, drew a defender then turned and fired a perfect pass to Vargas in the middle of the field. The junior paused to control the ball, wound and lofted a shot that sailed over Andrade’s gloves and under the crossbar.

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The Skiers (1-3 overall, 0-1 conference) had a chance to square the match just three minutes later when they were awarded a penalty kick after a hand ball in the Rams’ box. But senior Terry Leitch’s shot attempt sailed wide of the left post.

Aspen controlled the pace and the ball for much of the first half, but couldn’t generate any high-percentage scoring chances. That changed in the second half.

Skiers midfielder Will Bloemsma caught freshman Alex Ferreira in stride with a pass up the left side in the 62nd minute. Ferreira then alertly passed to a wide-open Eric Perez, who beat Roaring Fork goalkeeper Wiley Adams from close range.

No more than four minutes later, Leitch got a measure of redemption, lofting a perfect free kick from about 30 yards out that was tapped home near the far post to give Aspen the lead.

“We had a 20-minute lapse,” Ackerman said. “For a period there, we were asleep at the wheel. They scared me.”

The drama that had been lacking during a game largely played at midfield increased in the final minutes. The Skiers looked as if they would prevail, however, after turning away multiple Rams shots in the waning minutes.

Then, a whistle.

Andrade was called for touching the ball outside the box, giving Roaring Fork a free kick. The shot bounced off the Aspen wall, however, and Perez knocked the ball out of bounds and out of harm’s way.

Momentarily, at least. Seconds later, The Rams flooded the box and play was halted once more. This time, officials determined Andrade dove to the ground, scooped up the loose ball with both hands, then released it and started dribbling – a violation. They awarded Roaring Fork a free kick a few feet from the goal line.

Ackerman admitted he did not have a good look at the play. Skiers head coach Junior Sutherland was following the action closely.

“Robbed,” an exasperated Sutherland said afterward. “[Andrade] had no control of the ball and picked it up – exactly what the center [official] saw. Then the guy 60 yards away makes the call.

“We put so much into this game. The guys worked hard, the passing was great and we walked away with nothing.”

The Rams, who topped 2008 state champion Hotchkiss on Tuesday, walked away with a second straight conference win to open Slope play. Vargas converted the free kick, then sealed the win with a well-placed shot in overtime.

Thursday’s debated ending is the second in as many years between the two programs. Ackerman pulled his players off the Aspen turf in the 50th minute last September – ostensibly because of a no call during an exchange in which one of his players and then Aspen goalkeeper Alex Owen collided while chasing down a loose ball.

The Skiers prevailed, 3-2, in overtime the next time the two met last fall.

“All things considered, what happened last year is behind us,” Ackerman said. “We love the competition in this league and it was a lesson, you know. We’re not going to let people take the game away from us anymore.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com