The Salem Hills boys soccer team has discovered in the early going of the 2019 season that it settles down and plays better after it gets its first goal in the net.
Skyhawk sophomore forward Ryan Stevens had a golden opportunity to do just that in the first half of Tuesday’s Region 10 opener at Lehi as he got behind the Pioneer defense — only to see his attempt get deflected by the sliding Lehi keeper.
“I was just trying to tap it and it went straight into him,” Stevens said. “I was definitely thinking about how to come back. I knew I could get more chances and something good would happen.”
Stevens used both speed and relentless drive to set up both Salem Hills goals as the Skyhawks held off the Pioneers, 2-1.
“I thought we settled into the game eventually,” Salem Hills head coach Jerry Johnson said. “We had a good game plan and once we started to switch the ball out of pressure, we found some openings.”
He credited Stevens for getting things started for the Skyhawks as he set up the first goal.
“He did great work to win the ball and keep it alive,” Johnson said. “For us, once that first goal comes, everything comes.”
The initial Salem Hills score came in the 62nd minute of action when the ball got kicked down the sideline into Pioneer territory. A Lehi defender was close to it but elected to shepherd the ball out of bounds.
“He was trying to shield the ball for a goal kick, so I ran around him,” Stevens said. “I was trying to aggressively get to the ball. Then I saw a guy open in the middle.”
Stevens — having won the battle for the ball right on the end line — forced the Pioneer keeper to come out to stop him. He then knocked it to sophomore midfielder Eli Johnson, who managed to redirect it into the net for the game’s first score.
“That brought the momentum,” Stevens said. “When you do something positive, it brings up your game.”
Just four minutes later, Stevens would get his own chance to get on the board.
In a similar play to the one in the first half that had gone right to the Lehi keeper, Stevens got to the ball with just one man between him and the goal. This time, however, his shot made it past the opposition and into the net, giving Stevens his first varsity goal.
“It felt good,” he said. “It was especially good because it made the game 2-0. It was good insurance.”
The Skyhawks needed the insurance, since Lehi put intense pressure on the Salem Hills net for the rest of the game.
“Our performance at the end was good,” Pioneer head coach Tim Graham said. “We got down but instead of fading we fought back. It shows resiliency but we didn’t come out with enough energy and that hurt us.”
Lehi’s attack did draw a penalty kick, one that junior forward Royce Colton easily buried.
That gave the Pioneers hope and they desperately tried to get the equalizer. Time ran out, however, and Salem Hills got the victory.
“That was good for us because it will bring up our confidence,” Stevens said. “Lehi is one of the better teams in our region, so if we keep playing that way I think we could win the league.”
Johnson said his team still has plenty to work on, explaining that getting the ball in the net consistently will be key.
“We need to be more technical on our finishing,” he said. “We’ve had good chances in every match but we have to settle down and be technical on our finishes. With time, I think we will see things come together.”
Graham said the Pioneers are working on improving their mental efforts.
“We need to learn ownership, that when we are down we need to pick ourselves up and go back at it,” he said. “Those are lessons for soccer and life. If we can learn that from this game, then I’ll be happy with the result.”
Salem Hills (2-1-2, 1-0-0) next plays at Carbon in a non-region game Friday at 4 p.m. while Lehi (1-5-1, 0-1-0) looks to bounce back at Spanish Fork on the same afternoon at 3:30 p.m.