Vail Valley preps: Huskies host Devils in Round 2
EDWARDS, Colorado – We knew today’s game – Eagle Valley soccer at Battle Mountain at 6:30 p.m. – was going to mean something. But what exactly?
Here it is – Battle Mountain leads the league with 27 points, followed by Steamboat at 25. Eagle Valley is at 22 points, out of the league chase, but playoff-bound. The Sailors host Moffat County tonight, and despite of all of their coach’s protestations about the strength of the Bulldogs, Steamboat will win.
That means the Huskies have to win today – a tie would give Steamboat the title if it prevails against Moffat – to capture league title.
Since past is prologue, history is important here. Eagle Valley hasn’t beaten Battle Mountain since 1999. The Devils won their first 4A Slope title last year, but still dropped a pair of 2-1 decisions to Battle Mountain.
Then there was the 1-1 tie last month in their first meeting of 2009. The Devils thought they had the game-winner in overtime when David Shea appeared to score, only to be called offsides. They’re still a bit hacked about that call in Gypsum.
The margin between Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley in soccer has narrowed to the point that it’s difficult to define. What is not difficult to define is how much Eagle Valley and its senior-dominated team want to beat Battle Mountain.
The Devils’ seniors are absolutely tremendous. They were overshadowed by Cesar Castillo last year, yet a vital part of the school’s league title. This year, they’ve disproved the theory that Eagle Valley soccer is just Cesar, one incorrectly subscribed to by me and a lot of people involved with Huskies soccer.
The playoffs do lie ahead for Eagle Valley, but beating the Huskies would mean the world to the Devils, especially the seniors.
Meanwhile, Battle Mountain soccer has been obsessed with one goal since last year – restoring its place atop the Slope. Remember that all involved with Huskies soccer had known nothing but winning league titles from 2004-07 until last fall. While the decisive blows came in losses to Glenwood Springs and Steamboat, it stung everyone involved in Eagle-Vail and now Edwards that Eagle Valley of all teams took the championship mantle from the Huskies.
Battle Mountain wants what it considers its right, the Slope title, back and if it’s Eagle Valley is the Huskies’ way, so much the better.
It is a rivalry now.
If you break the two teams down by position, here’s how it goes:
• Goalie: Huskies … Clint Hervert has more experience than Mario Gonzalez.
• Defense: Huskies … Battle Mountain’s deeper with Connor Tedstrom, Cody Hervert and Chad Wilkinson.
• Midfield: Even … The unsung heroes of both teams play here be it Leopoldo Rodriguez or David Gonzalez for the Huskies or Gonzalo Gomez and Nestor and Kevin Escobar for the Devils.
• Striker: Devils. Yes, Marco Escobar is listed as a middie, but he plays like a striker and I feel more confident in the combination of Escobar and Shea here than I do with Ubaldo Trujillo and Jack Sunderland.
This is all pretty even, so here’s what each team needs to do.
First, Eagle Valley just needs to stick around. On any given day, the Devils can beat the Huskies, but if they keep this thing scoreless or at 1-1 going into the second half, Battle Mountain will start to feel urgency. Remember, the Huskies need a win and will start to move numbers forward in an even game. The Huskies will also press their shots, which hasn’t been too good of a situation for them.
That’s exactly the situation Steamboat exploited twice, and today, that counter-attack could well be the one that topples Battle Mountain for Eagle Valley.
No. 2 – Vertical doesn’t work. Yes, Eagle Valley has changed its formation from a 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2 since the two teams played last. This is sound strategy from coach Jason Rittmiller and having an extra midfielder will help the transition game. Along the way, depth in the midfield should help the Devils play the ball out wider.
I don’t expect Eagle Valley to use the entire pitch tonight, but get outside the football sidelines guys. Just knocking it forward, hoping that Escobar or Shea will be able to run onto it, is a low-percentage play. Tedstrom, Cody Hervert and Wilkinson will just start it the other way.
Finally, I like Eagle Valley in set pieces. Shea can serve the corner as well as anyone. Escobar is magic in the box and Steve White and A.J. Rhoades coming in from defense in these situations can be the difference. We all saw it against Glenwood last week.
As for the Huskies, there is a white thing one end of the field. The idea is to kick the soccer ball at it. OK? Seriously, two goals, guys. If you had scored two goals in either Steamboat game, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. And make no mistake, two is the magic number. Battle Mountain’s defense has not allowed two goals in one game this season.
I do not get for the life of me why Battle Mountain has struggled to score goals this year. Just put the ball on the frame and see what happens. Bring the middles up for rebounds. Yes, it exposes you to the aforementioned Eagle Valley counter-attack but that’s why the Huskies have had so much faith in their three stout defenders and Clint Hervert.
Battle Mountain probably gets more chances to score if it uses all 80 yards of its home pitch. Hot Stuff is 68 yards wide for soccer. This isn’t a state secret, but the Huskies have the speed and an advantage with their home field. The Huskies can dictate the tempo by running.
The third key is depth. Coach David Cope likes to use his bench and he’s got guys upon whom he can call to give him 10 minutes here and there. If things go the way they want, the Huskies will be fresher in the waning minutes.
Then there’s the question of the tie. A draw would splatter Battle Mountain’s title hopes, but I don’t know how good the Devils would feel about it. OK, Eagle Valley certainly wouldn’t mind shoving the Huskies out of a title, but the Devils want to beat the Huskies so much.
Rittmiller also doesn’t strike me as the sort of coach who would go for a tie, either. There’s also the question of whether Cope pulls Clint Hervert in the waning minutes of OT for an extra attacker a la Bob Bandoni in 1999. (That Battle Mountain -Vail Mountain classic was 10 years ago today, kids, in a case of serious serendipity.)
And after all of this, who knows what’s going to happen? You do expect it’s going to be Marco Escobar or Shea or Trujillo or Sunderland for their respective teams, but someone always comes out of the woodwork.
Whose story gets played out? We find out tonight at 6:30 p.m.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.