When a team has a player get a red card early in the game, the obvious impact is the challenge that squad faces having to compete with only 10 players for the rest of the contest.
But there is a psychological ramification for the opponent that has the advantage as well, since knowing your team has more players on the field can create some indecision.
“You have to be mentally strong and disciplined still,” American Fork head coach Derek Dunn said. “You don’t want to change your game plan necessarily.”
The Cavemen faced that scenario Tuesday afternoon in their home match against rival Lone Peak with the Region 4 title on the line. After a Knight player was red-carded in the 15th minute, American Fork appeared to have a significant edge.
The game turned out to be much more balanced than that might initially appear but in the end the Cavemen got the goal they needed and held off the Knights to secure the 1-0 win.
“It wasn’t the cleanest game by any means,” Dunn said. “I’m glad it happened now because we can look at it and work on things. Lone Peak did a great job holding back. They’ve had a strong defense all year, so they were pretty confident. They played it smart.”
Both teams had moments when they thought they had gone in front, only to have goals waved off.
It happened first for the home team, which took the free kick after the red card and had it carom off the crossbar. American Fork eventually put the ball in the net during the ensuing scramble but the Cavemen were called for a foul the negated the goal.
Lone Peak had the same thing happen to it on a corner kick later in the first half. The Knights were able to direct the ball across the goal line but the American Fork keeper was impeded before the shot and the goal didn’t count.
The only goal that did count came in the 38th minute and followed a similar pattern to American Fork’s nullified goal.
Caveman junior forward Addie Gardner launched a great shot in the run of play but once again the ball was just barely too high and ricocheted off the crossbar.
This time, however, sophomore midfielder AJ Stromberg won the race to the rebound and was able to drive it past the Lone Peak defenders into the back of the net.
“We’ve been really working on staying with it and keeping going, no matter what happens,” Dunn said. “Off the crossbar, we made it messy. For AJ to be there, then to take the touch to settle it, she did a great job putting it in. That’s scary with the keeper coming out.”
Both teams had occasional opportunities the rest of the way but the defenses stood tall the rest of the way.
That proved to be enough for the Cavemen to hang on for the victory and win the league title.
“This is No. 4 for us,” Dunn said. “Even with the RPI, it’s fun to know that we battled through the toughest division. To stay strong to win it, it’s awesome.”
Now American Fork will await the official announcement of the 6A tournament bracket on Wednesday but Dunn said he’s pleased that his girls will be heading to state on a high note.
“You always want to start the tournament with a win,” Dunn said. “With the RPI, you don’t know what is next. You have to be prepared for whatever comes your way. To us, we had to win today to win region, so the tournament started for us today. Right now it’s about what we can fix and if we can stay consistent.”