But after a 3-1 win over Sheridan on Sept. 27 — in which the Trappers (4-3-1) controlled the pace and tempo of the game throughout — Gillette proved up to the challenge just two days later, handing NWC its third loss on the season, 2-0.
“Our midfield really held it down against Sheridan, and Sheridan didn’t play a formation that suited them against us. Gillette did,” said NWC head coach Stan Rodrigues. “Gillette had guys that held it down, and it made a difference.”
Trappers 3, Sheridan 1
The first time the teams met this season, the Trappers overcame a lackluster start to hold the Generals to a 1-1 tie in Sheridan.
A lot of soccer has been played since then, and the Trappers were more than ready for the rematch. NWC played its up-tempo style to the hilt, controlling the action offensively to cruise to a 3-1 victory.
“This win felt really good,” Rodrigues said. “When we went down there, we didn’t have Daniel Lobera, and in this conference, the fields you play on make a big difference. Sheridan has a nice field, but it’s very small compared to ours, so we weren’t really able to stretch them out.”
Trapper Field can either be a blessing or a curse, depending on the opponent’s style of play. But Rodrigues knew getting Sheridan (2-2-2) at home, coupled with having Lobera in the lineup, would give the Generals fits.
“I figured we could have success and stretch them out,” Rodrigues said. “The thing I was most shocked about was the formation they came at us with. I was able to change a few things tactically in ours, and it worked out really well.”
Team captain Ryan Tyrer opened the scoring, converting on a penalty kick to give the Trappers an early 1-0 lead. Sergio Santamarina followed with a goal, and Lobera capped off scoring with a breakaway insurance goal. Rodrigues said there is something to be said for scheduling games on a Wednesday.
“Having a game on a Wednesday keeps us a little bit more focused than the Saturday games for some reason,” Rodrigues said. “We can be very much a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type team. Cheers again to Sheridan, I think they’re a good squad and well-coached.”
Rodrigues praised his midfield of Luis Diaz Menendez, Carlos Felgueroso and Jay Younger for their play, as well as Tyrer and Kyle Lamb for providing the team’s “spine.”
“When things are clicking, the spine of my team is very important,” he said. “Everything was working well in that game, and I’m proud of days like that.”
Gillette 2, Trappers 0
Saturday’s game against Gillette had a chippy feel from the start, as the Trappers found themselves in yellow-card trouble early and often. The Pronghorns (2-7-1) took advantage, scoring a pair of goals in the first half and holding on for a 2-0 win against a Trappers team that never quite found its groove.
“It’s one of those things where this is a young team. They’re going to have ups and downs, peaks and valleys,” said Rodrigues. “I have to give credit to Gillette: They had one or two players that weren’t there the first time we played. Our field was their advantage, because they were able to open us up quickly.”
The Trappers had their share of scoring opportunities, but were unable to convert, as shots struck the post and slowed momentum.
“There were a couple of places where we just missed chances to sway momentum our way,” Rodrigues said. “... It was just a game of two halves. The second half was a pretty even game overall with us being on our front foot. We just couldn’t finish our chances.”
Yellow cards also became an issue for the Trappers, forcing Rodrigues to get creative with the personnel he put on the field. The first-year coach said cards seem to be pulled quicker in this league than others he’s coached in.
“When you get a kid that’s riding a yellow and referees are inconsistent on which fouls they pull a card for, it definitely affects my substitution strategy,” Rodrigues said. “The kids can’t play as hard as they normally would because they’re sitting on a potential red card. It really takes the wind out of our sails and forces me to go pretty deep into my bench. ... We got outworked, and that’s not what we’re used to.”
Midfielder Robert George is nursing a hip injury, which kept him out of the game against Sheridan and limited his action against Gillette.
“Not having Robert George in front of us is proving to be a constant issue,” Rodrigues said. “But Ryan [Tyrer] definitely is the epitome of smashmouth English soccer; the kid’s level is very high. Ryan is always huge for us.”
Rodrigues also praised Brian Crawford, whose time on the pitch has been sparse this season, but who stepped up big in substitution Saturday.
“This is a kid who I think had thoughts of quitting the first week of practices because he felt his skills just weren’t high enough,” Rodrigues said.
Crawford, a Cowley native, played soccer in high school for the Powell Panthers, and was a state champion wrestler for Class 2A Rocky Mountain High School.
“He’s the smallest kid on our team, but he’s probably got one of the biggest hearts,” Rodrigues said of Crawford. “He is a true competitor. He’s a state champion wrestler, he had several offers to go wrestle in college. The kid doesn’t know what ‘quit’ means. He’s proven to be such a good spirit. He plays bigger than he is, and is a bigger part of our team than I think people give him credit for.”
Sophomore Night Saturday
The Trappers are at home Saturday for a rematch with Laramie County Community College. NWC beat the Golden Eagles (1-9-1) 1-0 in the first contest — the program’s first ever road win against LCCC. Rodrigues said he expects the Golden Eagles to show up looking for a little payback.
“It’s going to be a real battle,” he predicted.
Saturday is also Sophomore Night, with a tailgate party during the women’s and men’s games at Trapper Field. Rodrigues said emotions will be high as coaches, players and fans honor their departing players.
“Overall, it’s going to be very hard for me to replace some of the pieces on this team,” Rodrigues said of his sophomores. “The character of the team and the heart of the team is really what carries us through. The soccer is really secondary.”
Rodrigues expects Saturday to be emotional, but there’s still a game to play.
“I want them to have great memories of this game; it might be their final home game, depending on how things play out,” Rodrigues said. “But I believe the team feels like they’ve had a really good experience this year. And that’s what we all work hard to do — give them the best experience possible.”