Maple Mountain boys soccer season ends with play-in loss to Tooele
Although there had been some rough times for the Maple Mountain boys soccer team in 2022, the Golden Eagles appeared to be a potential darkhorse in the 5A playoffs.
Maple Mountain had every reason to believe it was primed for success, having won three of its last four games including knocking off No. 3-seeded Wasatch.
The early struggles — the Golden Eagles lost 10 of their first 12 games — meant that the tournament run would begin with a play-in game against Tooele at home in Spanish Fork on Thursday.
“We had some good wins in the last couple of weeks,” Maple Mountain head coach Lawrence Cullum said. “You come into this thing and you’ve got an opportunity to go do something. I thought we had a relatively good draw but it depended on how we showed up and what we brought on that day.”
What the Golden Eagles brought against the Buffaloes was moments of brilliance and numerous opportunities, but also moments of hesitation and confusion.
What Tooele brought was an aggressive pressing defense, some great goalkeeping — and one brilliant strike.
That goal, a 40-yard opportunistic shot by freshman Casen Walker, proved to be the difference in the game as the Buffaloes were able to hold Maple Mountain scoreless to get the 1-0 win.
“I think we’ve kind of had a lot of games like that,” Cullum said. “You kind of control it, but you just can’t put it in. Then they get one that was a head-scratcher.”
He said he had seen Tooele practicing long shots during warmups and tried to warn his players to not allow that type of opportunity.
In the 54th minute, however, Walker got open with the ball at his feet and saw that the Golden Eagle keeper was slightly out of position. He immediately let it fly and it settled under the crossbar to put Tooele on top.
“We had one moment where we left a kid wide open and they floated it in there perfectly,” Cullum said. “Other than that, I felt it was more of us attacking and them just kicking the ball up to chase it down. That was their game plan and they used it to their advantage. They played within what they were trying to do. As soon as they got that goal, they were able to keep more guys back.”
Although Maple Mountain fell behind, it had plenty of chances to equalize.
In quick succession, Golden Eagle senior Stefano Cia had a shot from just outside the penalty box hit the crossbar, then had an open header off a free kick in the middle of the box that also sailed just high.
Tooele also got some nice saves from sophomore keeper Deven Randle, although he did need a defender to clear a bouncing ball off the line after it had ricocheted around in the box.
In the end, however, the Buffaloes were able to prevent Maple Mountain from scoring and advanced to the 5A first round, while the Golden Eagles saw their season come to an end.
“If you get that first goal, all of a sudden you loosen up,” Cullum said. “But the challenge we had all season was getting that goal when we needed it. It’s rough and I feel sorry for our seniors. We had about 15 and they were much better than our record reflected this year. It was one of those years where things just didn’t go our way.”
He said many of the players played on the team that reached the state semifinals in 2021 and had a chance to go all the way, losing an overtime heartbreaker to Wasatch. It just didn’t work out as well this year.
“This year we struggled a little bit with our identity,” Cullum said. “It was about trying to figure out what we could do and what we could accomplish with each other. We had moments where we showed what we were capable of.”
Even though it will be tough for Maple Mountain to lose so many contributors, Cullum said he is optimistic that the younger players will be ready for the challenge.
“If you look at our junior varsity and freshmen teams this year, we’ve tried to implement a style of playing that highlights how we do as a team,” Cullum said. “They really embraced it and had really successful seasons. They were really able to work off each other. I think they’ll be ready.”
Tooele advances to play at No. 9 seed Stansbury in the 5A first round on Saturday.