NEW ULM - For Tuesday's Senior Night game against Glencoe-Silver Lake, the four seniors on the New Ulm soccer team were treated to a contest that they likely won't forget anytime soon.
Playing on the lush main field at the Martin Luther College Soccer Complex, the Eagles withstood two Panthers comebacks in the second half to earn a crucial 5-3 victory that keeps New Ulm's hopes alive to earn home-field advantage in the first round of the section playoffs.
"It was great - it's one of my favorite games, probably," New Ulm senior defender Matt Uehling said.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
New Ulm’s Jonathan Sehloff (right) takes a shot over Michael Donnay of Glencoe-Silver Lake during the first half Tuesday at the Martin Luther College Soccer Complex main field in New Ulm.
New Ulm had most of the ball possession throughout the contest, keeping the ball mostly on the GSL side of the field. However, the Panthers had a number of fast breaks, with all three of their goals coming in such fashion.
Early on, the Eagles looked a bit out of sorts as they adjusted to playing on the thick grass of MLC's main field, a much different surface than the dried-up field they usually play on.
"This field here is pretty much a treat to play on, and it was kind of why we were a little sluggish," New Ulm head coach Jack Gronholz said. "We're used to playing on a field that's harder with not a lot of grass, and you touch the ball and it rolls forever. The pace of the game is so much different here, you have to have crisp, quality passes."
It appeared that the Eagles had taken the lead five minutes into the game when senior Ryan Plath drilled home a shot during a scramble in front the the GSL following a corner kick by Joshua Koelpin, but the goal was disallowed due to an offside call.
The Eagles finally netted the first goal of the match with 10:08 remaining in the first half on an unconventional corner taken by Koelpin.
Instead of launching his corner kick in front of the net, Koelpin made a short pass and received the ball straight back, after which he dribbled down the goal line on the left side. His short cross went straight into the goal mouth, where Panthers goalkeeper Aaron Rhodes was unable to grab it, with the ball finding the roof of the net.
Getting on the scoreboard first was crucial for the Eagles, who have struggled this season when falling behind.
"We've had issues scoring first and then following through," Gronholz said. "I don't think we've ever scored first and then they actually came and tied it, we've always been ahead, so it was nice that they pushed through. They stayed focused and played the way they should be playing."
New Ulm took a 2-0 lead with 1:03 remaining in the half when Alex Bumgartner corralled the rebound on a shot by Broderick Brown that hit the crossbar. Bumgartner slotted his shot just inside the right-hand post, with Seth Wiechman earning an assist on the play.
Glencoe-Silver Lake didn't wait long to respond, however, scoring just 10 seconds later. The Panthers sent the ball forward after the ensuing kickoff, where Nick Jenkins chased it down and headed toward the New Ulm net. Jenkins unleashed a shot from the left side of the box that was contested by a New Ulm defender, but it was placed perfectly and ended up in the right-hand netting.
GSL completed its first comeback just more than three minutes into the second half when Javier Calva broke away for a one-on-one opportunity against Eagles goalkeeper Alex King. King advanced out of the net and got a hand on the shot, but the ball trickled the entire length of the box and found the net.
New Ulm retook the lead five minutes later on a fast-break of its own. The goal was an all-senior affair, with Carl Boeder sending a one-touch pass to Plath on the left side of the box, which Plath put a perfect strike on to send the ball to the right-hand side of a diving Rhodes in net.
The lead only lasted four minutes, though, as GSL's Eduardo Herrera broke through the New Ulm defense for a breakaway and finished off his run by sliding a shot underneath an advancing King.
Herrera was barely onside when he received the ball, from where his speed gave him a leg-up over the Eagle defense.
"They were a fast team, especially up front, but we have a great defense that knows how to hold a line and keep them offsides," Uehling said. "It's going to be a good defense next year too, we've got a lot of good guys coming up to fill in some lost positions from me and [senior] Justin [Steffl]."
The Eagles received a blow when King was hurt in a collision with 19:20 remaining in the match, but Jonathan Sehloff took over for King in net and didn't miss a beat, keeping the Panthers scoreless until King returned near the end of the match.
Just 10 seconds after King's injury, New Ulm freshman Noah Webb scored what proved to be the game-winning goal. Webb's shot - which was launched from a quarter of the way down the field - sailed over Rhodes in net and hit the crossbar, but ricocheted downward and just over the goal line.
After maintaining the lead during a tense finishing stretch, New Ulm added an insurance goal with 33 seconds remaining when Koelpin received a pass from Wiechman right in front of the GSL net and sent a shot to the right-hand side of Rhodes.
With the win, the Eagles (4-9) will head to Waseca on Thursday with a chance to secure a home game in the opening round of the Section 2A playoffs.
"If we do take care of business in Waseca and win, I would assume we would have a home playoff game, and then we would be back on this field again," Gronholz said.
New Ulm lost 3-2 to Waseca in a home game on Sept. 13, but after a Tuesday's win and a 4-2 win against Fairmont on Sept. 27 - the No. 4 team in the state - the Eagles are on a roll entering Thursday's contest.
"[Waseca is] a good team, but we are too - talent-wise we're pretty close to the same," Gronholz said. "If [my players] play the way they played against Fairmont in Waseca, we'll win the game. It all depends on how you come to play, it could be one bounce, one mistake - you just never know."
The Eagles players are thinking positive thoughts as they head into Thursday's game and the ensuing playoffs.
"We're motivated, we're excited - we're ready," Uehling said. "We're confident."