Aspen falls to Mustangs in double overtime
In sudden-death overtime soccer, fortunes can change with one pass.One missed assignment. One bad bounce. That’s all it takes. In the playoffs, the stakes are higher. One miscue is the difference between playing another day and heading home for the long winter.Just two minutes into a second overtime – 117 minutes of play – in Thursday’s playoff opener between Aspen and visiting Colorado Academy, the Mustangs (7-9, 4-6) capitalized. As Zach Gerum’s second goal hit the back of the net to break a 2-2 tie, Colorado Academy’s bench spilled out onto the field, erupting in jubilation.A stunned Skiers team could do nothing but look on as one of its strongest seasons in school history came to an abrupt end with the 3-2 loss. Aspen finished 10-6 overall, 7-3 in Western Slope 3A play.”It sucks to lose like that,” Aspen coach Grant Sutherland said. “I feel bad for them. This one is tough to take.” As quickly as the second overtime began, it was over. Surrounded by two defenders, a Mustangs forward dribbled through traffic, finding enough space to center a pass into the box. Gerum hammered it home, completing the Mustangs’ come-from-behind victory.Despite Aspen’s strong play to open the game – the Skiers scored twice in the game’s first 26 minutes – Colorado Academy continued to fight for loose balls, despite being visibly frustrated by the officiating. Mustangs senior defensemen Nick Bourquard – a most unlikely offensive weapon – stepped in to take the penalty kick after a Skiers holding call in the box. He launched a ground ball just inside the right post and just out of the reach of diving Aspen goalkeeper Fred Bernard.
At 5:16 in the second half, the Mustangs took advantage of another Aspen penalty to even the score. After Gerum slipped behind the defense and was one-on-one with Bernard, Aspen freshman Jesus Mesa closed from behind and kicked the ball out of bounds. Mesa was whistled for the infraction, and Gerum launched the ensuing shot into the left side of the goal.
“We came out with a lot of energy and each [penalty kick] took all the wind out of us,” Aspen junior forward Steven Buzbee said. “We didn’t finish them off early. That has been our biggest problem all year. We always let teams hang in.”Aspen – the beneficiary of a penalty inside the box 12 minutes into the match – struck first when junior Nicky Anastas’ shot glanced off the gloves of the diving Mustangs goalkeeper.The Skiers went up by two goals at 26 minutes. Aspen freshman Baker Boyd faked out a defender left of the box, then fired a strong shot on goal. When the ball bounced off Casey, Buzbee was waiting to finish.Aspen had multiple opportunities to pad its lead. Junior Ryder Fyrwald let off a quick shot in front of the goal minutes into the second; no Skiers player was in front to jump on the rebound. With 10 minutes remaining in regulation – and the pressure mounting – Buzbee made a run into the middle of the field and let off an errant shot; Boyd was wide open right of the box but did not call for a pass.With one minute to play in regulation, a Mustangs penalty set the ball up 10 yards outside the box. Buzbee’s shot glanced off a wall of Colorado Academy defenders.
“I think we outplayed them,” Buzbee said. “We just had a few chances that we could not capitalize on.”During the first overtime, both teams crowded the center of the field on defense, allowing little room for the offenses to operate. With one mistake likely to end the season, both teams were tense and cautious.Three minutes into sudden death, Buzbee’s shot from in front of the box sailed wide over the crossbar. Mesa made a run down the left side 12 minutes in but misfired. The crowd hung on every pass, every shot as the second overtime was under way. Aspen – which lost to Vail Mountain on Sept. 27 in its only other overtime game this season – was bitten one last time.
Following a tough five games in nine days, Sutherland said his players looked fatigued.”I’m not making excuses, but that schedule is almost too much,” Sutherland said. “I want to thank them for their effort this year.” The high-powered Aspen offense, which outscored opponents 43-12 in its 10 wins this season, went scoreless during the game’s final 81 minutes.”I didn’t want it to end, but this season was a good way to go out,” Skiers senior Henry Cote said. “We played well, but it’s all about timing. This is just part of the game.” Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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