Northwest men’s team opens season with win against NJC, falls to WNCC
Amid the hoopla surrounding the first weekend back on campus for the students of Northwest College, the men’s soccer team opened their season by splitting a pair of home games against Northeastern Junior College and Western Nebraska Community College.
The team exhibited their up-tempo style of play for a healthy crowd of spectators Friday with a 3-2 win against the NJC Plainsmen at Trapper Field.
The crowd was just as large for Saturday’s match, though the visiting Cougars from WNCC took advantage of a few second-half miscues to outlast the Trappers 6-3.
“Overall, I think the team did an excellent job,” said Trappers first-year head coach Stan Rodrigues. “I gambled on our fitness and on our altitude, I gambled on our youth to be as fit as they could be, and I think I tried to high-pressure them a little too long in the games. I should have tried backing off a bit to conserve some energy. But to be fair, we were being so successful in pressing for goals that it’s hard to say no to something when you’re having success.”
Trappers 3, NJC 2
The roster for the Northeastern Junior College men’s soccer team reads like a World Cup All-Star side, with no fewer than 26 international students representing a host of different countries.
“I will never use this as an excuse, but we’re playing against teams with 20 full scholarships,” Rodrigues said. “I don’t have near that number. And if you look at their roster for how many in-state kids they really have, they don’t have it. I’m truly carrying a roster of Wyoming kids who are getting a brash lesson in the art of international soccer very quickly.”
But the team that took the field for the Trappers was just as diverse, and played with more of what their opponent lacked: Heart.
“We went at them with a little bit of old school, tough-nosed soccer,” Rodrigues said. “We managed the game well, and we were able to find the right pieces that fit. We made a lineup adjustment that, in all fairness, I don’t know if I had done it two weeks ago if it would have been as successful as it was.”
The adjustment was putting Aaron Kovac, a midfielder from Roanoke, Virginia, as a defender against the Plainsmen. The results of Kovac’s switch from attacker were immediate.
“He absolutely locked down their whole team,” Rodrigues said. “He was the change of the game against Northeastern; he impacted the game so heavily.”
Both teams did an excellent job creating scoring opportunities in the first half, with the Plainsmen’s Paul Liagre putting NJC on the board first at the 18 minute mark. The Trappers answered with a goal of their own at 29 minutes, when Lander’s Daniel Lobera found the back of the net on a penalty kick to tie the game at 1-1, ending the scoring for the first half.
The Trappers continued their aggressive play to start the second half, eventually taking the lead on a Johnny Varian goal at the 54 minute mark. The Plainsmen would tie the game about 10 minutes later on a goal by Mustafa Nadeem, but the score was short-lived, as Trapper Sergio Santamarina scored the gamewinner just a minute later, giving NWC its first win of the season.
“I don’t have a team of superstars; I don’t have a team of individuals that are just going to come out of the stat sheet. I have a team,” Rodrigues said after the game. “Each one of those kids, they need each other. This is not going to be a team of superstars, it’s going to be a blue-collar team all the way through.”
For the game, the Trappers had 18 shots on goal to NJC’s 16. The Plainsmen held the advantage in corner kicks, 7-4.
WNCC 6, Trappers 3
Coach Rodrigues said his team had set a goal for the weekend of scoring at least six times between the two games.
The Trappers did just that, scoring three more goals Saturday against Western Nebraska Community College. Unfortunately for the Trappers, the visiting Cougars proved adept at finding the back of the net as well, doubling up NWC 6-3.
“Usually when you score three goals or more in a game, you don’t tend to lose,” Rodrigues said. “Unfortunately, we just got overwhelmed. Like Conor McGregor [against Floyd Mayweather], we ran out of gas.”
The teams were evenly-matched in the first half, with the Trappers taking a 3-2 lead into the half on goals from Carlos Felgueroso, Lobera and Robert George. The Trappers struggled to find an answer for the Cougars’ Lawan Abary, who was responsible for both his team’s goals in the first half.
The second half was all Cougars, as they tightened their defense and continued to assault the Trappers’ net. WNCC’s Leonardo Palomo tied the game with 20 minutes left in regulation, and the final 10 minutes were an onslaught, as the Cougars scored three more times to finish out the game. WNCC’s Abary scored two of those, giving him four on the day.
“We have to have the bench grow,” Rodrigues said. “The last 10 minutes of the game, although we gave up some poor goals, I put kids in that either had no minutes prior or needed minutes to grow. I took my starters off and put those kids in because I need them to be ready for the next time around. Now they’re collegiate soccer players, and now they have a taste of the intensity of what we’re trying to do.”
Looking ahead, the Trappers head to Sheridan Tuesday, Sept. 5, for a game against the Generals. Rodrigues said the team will use that time between now and then to get his injured players healthy, as well as adjust for the loss of one of the team’s leading scorers. Freshman forward Lobera, who scored a pair of goals over the weekend, will have to sit out at least the Sheridan game after receiving a red card against WNCC.
“We have to be better at executing the finishing piece,” Rodrigues said. “If we don’t, we’re going to be a .500 or less team because we’re missing good opportunities. We have to limit our mistakes. Had we limited one, maybe two of our mistakes, we would have won that game against Western Nebraska.”
Rodrigues said he was pleased with the crowds at both games over the weekend and hopes the community will continue to support its college teams.
“If we can entertain the people that come to our games, give them an entertaining, intense, serious game, that’s what I want to do,” he said. “Soccer sometimes takes a hit in rural areas, so it’s nice to have fans come out and hear them shout, hoot, holler, especially in an intense game. We want to make it fun.”