by Bob San
SUN PRESS Newspapers
The Maple Grove boys’ soccer team held on to its winning record after the toughest week of the season, where it faced the three top-ranked squads in the state. The Crimson went strong into the competition, posting wins over Hill Murray, Park Center, Champlin
Park and second-ranked Anoka, while falling to Blaine and Southwest.
“It’s gone pretty well,’’ said Kevin Hoff, a junior and one of two captains on the team. “We’ve gotten results. Our losses, we could have prevented. We’ve always bounced back and picked our heads up pretty quickly after losses and ties.’’
Maple Grove had a hard-fought 2-1 win against Park Center. After the Pirates drew first blood 10 minutes into the game, the Crimson’s Garrett Maupin hit a corner kick that dinged off the back posted and popped out of the goal. Hoof was there to drive the ball into the back of the net. In the second half, captain Trevor Gifft was fouled by the Pirates, leading to a free kick. Hoof hit the ball into the penalty box, where Gifft finished just 10 minutes into the second half.
Against Champlin Park, Gifft split the defenders with a pass to Reid Diamond, who carried the ball into the box, shot and scored. The two teams traded penalty kicks in the second half, with Hoof scoring for the Crimson to give MG the 2-1 win. Maupin’s free kick against Hill Murray provided the only score of that game.
Maple Grove kept the game against the top-ranked Blaine close, losing 2-0. The Crimson knew they were in for a tough battle from the start, with coach Gregg Leininger urging them to get the ball “over the trees,” a reference to the size of the Bengal’s back line. The Crimson did get the ball in the back of the net off a corner finished by Ted Janka. The goal was called back for a foul.
Blaine scored the only goal of the first half with three minutes left. Crimson goalie Ben Nelson saved a breakaway just minutes into the second half, while Daniel Cortez later cleared the ball off the line following a Blaine corner kick. A late foul gave Blaine a penalty kick with two minutes left, which they converted. Nelson and the Crimson shut down Anoka 1-0 during the second big game of the week. Nelson saved both a free kick and a point blank shot after a breakaway in the first half alone. The Crimson scored with Jared Schweiss converting a cross from Michal Berratt. The second half was a nail biter. Johnathon Piotraschke cleared a quick transition when Anoka got behind the Crimson defense, while Ali Kowsari tamped down a 3 on 1 attack. The Crimson ended up with a 1-0 win at home against the second-ranked team in the state.
Maple Grove fell to third-ranked Southwest Saturday, Sept. 21. Southwest scored twice in the second half, once on a corner kick and once on a second effort after a throw in. Nelson saved a rocket from inside the box in the second half, while Ryan Petersen had a perfectly timed slide tackle to prevent a breakaway in the first half.
The game ended with Maple Grove walking off the field with 23 seconds left. Leininger said that he decided to pull his players after a series of controversial action by the officials. Leininger said a linesman yelled at one of his players and then grabbed and bear hugged a Crimson after a scuffle with a Southwest player. Two minutes later, the referee gave a Crimson a red card after a foul. “It was a foul but not a red card,” he said.
With 23 seconds remaining, Leininger decided to pull his players off the field.
“They (the officials) were playing games with the kids,” Leininger said. “I pulled the kids off from a situation that was not safe. It had nothing to do with Southwest. We shook their hands. The game ended fine with Southwest.”
Having endured the tough week, the Crimson are well positioned for the second half of the season, Hoof said.
“We’re looking for more improvement,’’ he said. “We’ll find more results, have more ups and downs, but we’ll keep fighting. I think we can make it deep into sections and maybe do well into state, based on how we’re playing against the best teams like Blaine and Anoka.’’
Crimson junior captain Kevin Hoff scores this game-winning penalty kick in the 2-1 win over Champlin Park. (Photo courtesy of Rich Moll)