September 22, 2014

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Boys soccer: North Olmsted dominates, but Amherst stays tough, holds on for scoreless tie

Amherst's Dalton Sweet, left, and North Olmsted's Stefan Spanu get tangled up fighting for possession during Wednesday's Southwest Conference game. LINDA MURPHY/CHRONICLE

Amherst’s Dalton Sweet, left, and North Olmsted’s Stefan Spanu get tangled up fighting for possession during Wednesday’s Southwest Conference game. LINDA MURPHY/CHRONICLE

NORTH OLMSTED — Amherst presented North Olmsted with something the Eagles hadn’t seen much of in their first four games, North Olmsted coach Chris Marsh said.

In the team’s three victories, North Olmsted hadn’t had to be perfect in the final third, as the bulk of its goals had come easily, most often after an Eagle had beaten a defender and then the opponent’s keeper.

Against Amherst, the Eagles — despite doing most of the pressing, with sophomore Max Becker leading the way — couldn’t beat the Comets one-on-one, and without much practice doing it the hard way, couldn’t find the net at all.

It all added up to a scoreless tie in each team’s Southwestern Conference opener.

North Olmsted's Keegan Welch, left, and Stefan Spanu leap over Amherst's Joseph Pritchard trying to head the ball into the goal.

North Olmsted’s Keegan Welch, left, and Stefan Spanu leap over Amherst’s Joseph Pritchard trying to head the ball into the goal.

“It’s always frustrating not to put any in the net,” Becker said of the Eagles (3-0-2). “We kept clawing at it, but we just couldn’t buy one. We’ve worked on putting together that final pass, but it just hasn’t clicked yet.”

Becker was the best player on the field, dictating play from his spot on the left flank all evening. In the 61st minute, he beat an Amherst defender on the back door and beat Amherst keeper Wes Lewis — but the referee’s whistle blew to signal a shove on Becker.

Two minutes later, North Olmsted’s Stefan Spanu, on a near mirror image of the Becker play, had Lewis one-on-one — but Lewis made one of his six saves.

The Eagles’ offense generated equally strong chances in the first half. In the 35th minute, Becker fired a right-footed shot that Comets keeper Wes Lewis deflected away to his left. The Eagles put the rebound home, but the linesman’s flag was up for an apparent offside.

Becker was at it again in the final minute of the half, after a teammate earned a free kick just outside the Comets 18-yard box: Becker’s ensuing kick free kick — the Comets were left watching when Becker never asked for 10 yards and struck quickly — hit the crossbar. Keegan Welch’s rebound went wide to keep the score knotted.

“We were the better team,” Marsh said, “but we just didn’t anticipate and put the final pass together. Or, when we played a ball, guys weren’t making the runs they should have been making to finish the play.

“I liked that we put pressure on them the entire match. I liked our intensity throughout. … And I’m happy we found a way to keep the sheet clean.”

Amherst, meanwhile, has dealt with injuries early on and subsequently is building from the back line out. On that, the Comets deserved an A for Wednesday’s performance.

Amherst's Mitchell Snowden, left, fights North Olmsted's Austen Medley for the ball.

Amherst’s Mitchell Snowden, left, fights North Olmsted’s Austen Medley for the ball.

Goalie Josh Daugherty injured his pelvic bone just before the season, and center back Ben Higgins is out for the year with a broken arm.
Lewis has moved into the net, and freshman Colin O’Connor is now paired with captain Dalton Sweet as center backs. The Eagles unofficially registered six shots on goal.

Now, Amherst must find the net. The Comets had their best chance in the 75th minute, when a shot off a short corner required a dynamite save from Eagles keeper Alex Gajowski. Andrew Dzoba’s rebound was blocked off the line by a North Olmsted defender.

The Comets have scored one goal in five games (1-3-1), in a win over Lakewood on Saturday.

“I can’t say enough about how our team, from the back forward, has improved dramatically. We were giving up seven goals a game a week ago,” Amherst coach Brett Thompson said. “(North Olmsted) is a good team. They pressured us.”

Both coaches said they’ll welcome a chance to breathe, watch film and practice. Each team, uncharacteristically, has played five games already.

“We played well, especially since we haven’t really practiced with that back line in place,” Thompson said. “It’ll be good to get some work in.”

Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or hammond_joel@yahoo.com.

North Olmsted 0, Amherst 0

SHOTS: Amherst 11, North Olmsted 14.
SHOTS ON GOAL: Amherst 3, North Olmsted 6.
SAVES: (A) Wes Lewis 6; (NO) Alex Gajowski 3.
CORNER KICKS: Amherst 3, North Olmsted 4.
GOAL KICKS: Amherst 10, North Olmsted 10.
OFFSIDE: Amherst 0, North Olmsted 2.
FOULS: Amherst 10, North Olmsted 10.
CARDS: (NO) Austen Medley (yellow, 23rd).
JV: Amherst, 2-0.