Five soccer teams are battling it out in the wild, wild Western Athletic Conference. After 11 years atop the conference, Liberal may be out of the way in 2012. Great Bend took another step toward its first WAC title with a 2-1 win against Dodge City Thursday in Great Bend.
Dodge City (3-4-2 overall, 1-2-1 WAC) had the first chance nearly six minutes into the game. A poor defensive clearance led to a shot from junior Arvin Romo, but his try was blocked by a Panther defender. On the ensuing corner kick, senior Hector Navarro pounded a header toward the lower right corner but a sprawling Claudio Sanchez kept it out. The Red Demons would later capitalize on another defensive mistake.
Great Bend (6-1-1, 3-1) did have more chances in the first half, but Red Demon keeper Junior Soto came off his line several times to minimize Panther chances.
“In the first half, we had a chance to score but they have a really good keeper,” said Great Bend Coach Gus Prieto. “He had three or four really good saves.”
Midway through the first half, Panther defender Javier Guerra hit a long free kick toward goal only to watch his Soto deflect it over the crossbar. Over the next six minutes, the Panthers remained on the attack with two corner kicks. One of those resulted in a hard shot from senior Jose Mijares and another diving save from Soto.
Neither side would have a good look at goal the rest of the first half, despite two Dodge City penalties deep in their own end in the final four minutes of the first half.
“It was a fight in the midfield,” Prieto said. “They always play aggressive and put a lot of pressure on us. I told my guys to be sure they are smart with the ball. There are a lot of people in the center fighting for ball position. I told them to get it to the sides.”
It took Great Bend just 30 seconds in the second half to earn a corner kick. That effort yielded a header wide of the upright, and Mijares missed wide seven minutes later. Quick passing would pay off eventually when, with 31:16 to play in the game, Panther senior Alex Urias and junior Michael Prieto combined to get the ball to Mario Espino for the first goal of the game.
Just over two minutes later, Great Bend was finally able to take advantage of a free kick deep in the Dodge City end. Urias blasted a shot by Soto from 20 yards out for a 2-0 lead with 29:03 to play.
“Outside of the two goals, which came pretty quickly on us, I thought the second half we played a lot better,” said Dodge City Coach Charles Johnson. “Really, the score may not indicate how good this game was.”
The Red Demons would not go away. Senior Stephan Bohling had the first two Dodge City shots in the second half, including a shot on goal with 17:20 to play. Over the next seven minutes, with physical play picking up all over the field, the Red Demons continued to push. Finally, Great Bend made a mistake. Then another. A poor clearance by keeper Sanchez was perpetuated by another missed clearance by the Panther defense. A Red Demon player got to the mishap first, sending a cross through the box where sophomore Fabian Dominguez pounded it past Sanchez with 13:40 left in the game.
“We started getting the ball to the outside,” Johnson said. “For us, our strengths are the quick passes and getting the ball moving off our feet rather than holding onto it. We thought we held on to it quite a bit more in the first half, which gave them opportunities.”
Great Bend survived the onslaught, eventually working the ball back to the other end for several minutes. Dodge City had two more chances to level the score late. With 4:15 remaining, Romo sent a dangerous ball through the box. Sanchez put a glove on it, but the ball fell back into a box that was absent of Red Demon attackers. With just 80 ticks remaining, Luis Carmona sent a long free kick to the top of the 18-yard box but the Panthers easily headed it away.
Despite the loss, Johnson said his team is close. Dodge City has lost two games to Great Bend by a combined two goals, and lost to Garden City in another one-goal match earlier this week.
“We’ve been struggling with the mental aspect of the game, and we know that,” he said. “This is the first game we’ve played like a team all year. We’re right there. It’s just are we going to make that breakthrough.”
The Panthers are preparing for Garden City on Tuesday. Both teams sit atop the league with one conference loss.
“We have to play better on offense,” Prieto said. “We play a really hard game on Tuesday.”