BY ROB LAPLANTE
It seems every team goes through adversity to start off a new season. The defending Mississippi 8 Conference champions are no exception to the rule.
For a team coming off its first conference title, the St. Michael-Albertville boys’ soccer team has some major question marks to answer.
The Knights lose five of its top six scorers from a year ago and lost both starting goalkeepers in Cole Christian and Drew Cramer.
While most teams starting a new school year have the same dilemma of replacing senior players, STMA head coach Darek Dewey has those problems and more starting off the new school year.
Losing five of your top scorer’s means others need to step up. One positive is senior forward and leading scorer Justin McLain returns. However, McLain is not available the first three games of the season due to an injury he suffered to his left foot while playing summer soccer.
“You can’t really predict anything until I know what Justin’s going to be like,” Dewey said. “Our scoring is going to depend on him a lot. If the defense improves I think we have a shot. I’m hoping we’re giving up one goal or getting shutouts in our games to give us a chance to win every single game.”
With McLain out, senior midfielders David Anderson and Winn Nyanseor will be looked upon as guys needing to step up offensively. Junior goalkeeper Sammy Guillou will start the year between the pipes.
McLain said he expects to miss some early games, but doesn’t anticipate a huge drop off while he’s out.
“Our starting keeper has good reflexes and he’s getting better every day,” McLain said. “We’re young, but once we get playing as a team we should be pretty good.”
McLain scored 23 goals as a junior, which accounted for more than half of the offensive production. He said he hopes to improve on last year’s numbers and credits his hard work as his key to success.
“I’ve got a lot of experience and I have speed and leg strength,” McLain said. “I want to get back to 20 goals. For the team, I want to go to state. Last year hurt, we were so close.”
East Ridge 2, STMA 2
Trailing early, STMA battled back, scoring two second-half goals to tie East Ridge 2-2 in the opening game of the Irondale Tournament.
Friday’s game officially ends as a tie, but due to tournament procedures, the game went to a shootout and nine shooters later, East Ridge advanced to the championship game.
Anderson scored STMA’s first goal and assisted on the tying goal off a header from senior midfielder Ivan Adika.
Already playing without leading scorer McLain, the Knights had to rally minus another player, after Nyanseor was issued a red card early in the first half.
With two guys scrapping for a loose ball, Nyanseor was kicked out of the opening game and was forced to sit in the next game as well.
“Losing Winn hurt, as he is a big part of our offense,” Dewey said. “The kid pulled his jersey and they said he threw him off with a closed fist. Looking at the video, it appears he did. It was a tough break, but hopefully he learns from his mistake.”
Guillou made six saves in his first varsity start in goal. He also faced nine shooters in the shootout – something Dewey said they hardly practiced.
“Sam played pretty well and to get a shootout in his first start should hopefully help him deal with some of that pressure,” Dewey said.
Irondale 3, STMA 0
Three goals in a matter of three minutes proved to be the difference in Saturday’s 3-0 shutout loss to Irondale.
Unlike Friday’s tie that ended in a shootout loss, Dewey was not as happy with the effort the guys showed against their counterpart Knights.
“We weren’t getting any good pressure,” Dewey said. “Playing shorthanded, we had a lot of tired guys running around. We’re not in real good shape right now and the guys were not used to the turf.”
Irondale had previously been defeated 2-0 to Andover, but rebounded for third place at the tournament. East Ridge won the tournament with a 1-0 win over Andover and STMA finished fourth with a 0-1-1 record.
“To sum it up, I would say Saturday we underachieved and Friday we overachieved,” Dewey said. “We didn’t come to play on Saturday.”
The Knights are at home Thursday at 5 p.m. against Orono. Tuesday they open conference play with a 5 p.m. game at Rogers.
Lady Knights also lose in shootout
The St. Michael-Albertville girls’ soccer team tied East Ridge 1-1 and then lost in a shootout in the opening game of the Irondale Tournament.
Friday’s shootout loss officially ends in a tie, but sent the Knights to the loser’s bracket of the four-team tournament, which eventually was postponed. Senior midfielder Jessica Johnson scored the lone goal for the Knights, with senior forward Maddie Barr picking up the assist.
The Knights return to the field Tuesday night at St. Cloud’s Husky Stadium with a matchup against St. Cloud Tech. Game time is 7 p.m.