After a sluggish start to the 2018 season, the Northwest College men’s soccer team drew a low seed and a tough opponent in Saturday’s opening round of the Region IX playoffs in Sterling, Colorado.
Few outside of the program expected the Trappers (5-4-2, 3-3-2) to give top-seeded Northeastern Junior College (14-5-1, 11-1) a game. Ranked as high as 12th in the nation and sporting a gaudy 11-1 conference record, the Plainsmen were considered a favorite to win Region IX.
The Trappers, however, had other plans. Playing like a team that had nothing to lose — against an opponent who may have been looking past the talented upstarts — Northwest emerged from the first round of the Region IX tournament with a 3-2 win Saturday, closing the door on NJC’s season on their home pitch.
“NJC is a very good program. Their midfield and their strikers were outstanding, their wingbacks were good, they were well organized,” said NWC interim head coach Bobby Peters. “But our team is very strong. We came in there with a game plan, and we executed it. The players came out and just worked their rears off.”
The Trappers appear to be peaking at the right time; Saturday’s victory followed a 2-1-1 finish in the team’s final four games.
NWC 3, NJC 2
The Plainsmen took an early lead on a Jean Carre penalty kick at the 11-minute mark of the first half.
“Even though they scored the first goal of the match, we never gave up,” said NWC captain Edgar Meza. “We worked together as a team and limited our mistakes.”
Northwest wasted no time in bringing the score back to even, as forward Matheus Macedo found the back of the net just a minute later off a throw-in by Daniel Lobera. The Trappers wouldn’t trail again.
“Lobera just winged one in there, and he was able to get it in on the near post,” Peters said. “The goalkeeper froze, and Matheus, instead of sitting there and watching, just charged right on through and put the ball in the goal. He was our opposite wing on that attack, so that was a fantastic guts and heart play.”
With the game knotted 1-1 at half, Peters said his team was playing with a lot of confidence, evidenced by the team’s demeanor at halftime.
“We were just pumped up. The guys were like, ‘Hey, we got this. Let’s go win it,’” Peters said. “They picked right up where they left off in the second half.”
After 15 minutes of back-and-forth play to start the second half, the Trappers scored the go-ahead goal off the foot of Rennan DaSilva, from a corner kick by Alejandro Fernandes. The goal gave Northwest its first lead of the game, and had the team beginning to believe they could pull the upset.
“That goal was the result of some hard work down in the corner by Jarrett Shrum,” Peters said. “He was battling the other team, just attacking them down in the corner. He tried to cross it in and it went out of bounds, and Alex [Fernandes] chose Rennan [DaSilva] on the corner kick and Rennan came through big.”
The Trappers scored the game-winner in the game’s 76th minute — an excellent play by an unexpected source. Ryan Silva de Almeida of Brazil didn’t see a lot of playing time during the regular season, but a move to striker for this game had the freshman in the right place when it counted, assisted by Gage Magone.
“I subbed out Jarrett [Shrum] and Sergio [Santamarina] and I put in two more guys up top,” Peters said. “That ended up being Ryan and Gage Magone. We were really putting a press on them; Gage was marking up on their defensive mid. We won the ball [and] he attacked the wing quickly.”
Magone sent the ball behind the defense, and as the keeper came out to play the ball, it took a crazy bounce off the keeper’s chest. Silva de Almeida came in on a streak and was able to knock it in for the score.
“It was a heads-up play by both of them,” Peters said. “It was pretty neat to see. And I was happy to see Ryan [Silva de Almeida] get in there and get the game-winner. He doesn’t get as much playing time, but it’s not because he’s a bad player — we’ve just got so much depth. But he’s worked hard all season.”
Not a team to roll over without a fight, NJC’s Carre found the back of the net for his second goal of the game, cutting Northwest’s lead to 3-2.
“They [NJC] got their final goal after an injury and a yellow card to us; I had to switch out two players, and they exploited that space right away,” Peters said. “It really showed that they were a very, very good team, because the second I moved one bit on our form and our team dynamic, they jumped on it and scored.”
That was the closest the Plainsmen would get, however, as the Trappers held on for the 3-2 win.
Trapper keeper Marcus Olmos continued his stellar play in net, earning his biggest win of the season.
“Our guys just battled all the way through,” Peters said. “Marcus [Olmos] came up really huge for us throughout that game; he made some fantastic saves. I’ll tell you, a keeper that can make the saves for your team on what are fantastic shots, it raises the level of the players in front of you. They can take more chances knowing you’re back there ready to make the big save.”
Olmos said the confidence gained in the season-ending 5-1 win over Western Wyoming carried over into the NJC contest.
“We weren’t intimidated by their status as a former No. 12 national ranking, and didn’t let an early penalty kick shake that confidence,” he said. “It proves what we feel — that when we play how we are capable of, we will win.”
“Going into the game, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” he said. “We were aware of the talent our opponent had, and had to be aware of their strengths. We did a nice job breaking down their style of play, which elevated ours.”
The Trappers now face a familiar foe in Friday’s semi-final game in Denver: Sheridan College (6-4-1, 5-2-1). The two teams battled to a 1-1 tie in their first meeting in September, while the Generals won the rematch 1-0. Peters said Sheridan is very sound defensively, but thinks the Trappers match up well — especially the way they’ve played the last few games. The winner of that contest will play for the Region IX title Saturday.
“Going into this game, we know exactly what we’re running up against,” Peters said. “We know we have to work a little harder at attacking their defensive line, and doing it with confidence. Sheridan plays a similar style to NJC, but our team’s ready for it. If we play like we did against NJC, we have a very good chance at a win.”