A sloppy second half defined the outcome of what could have been a very winnable game for the Manhattan High boys’ soccer team Tuesday night at Anneberg Park.
Hosting the defending Class 6A state champion Wichita Northwest Grizzlies, the Indians watched a two-goal halftime lead slip away and turn into a disappointing 4-3 loss.
Leading 3-1 at halftime, the only goal for Northwest in the first half came off of a penalty kick.
The Indians opened the game strong, they connected passes, made plays, but most importantly, put away goals.
“It was a great first half, I think there was very little that we did wrong,” MHS high assistant coach John Massanet said. “But we lost possession of the ball and we weren’t winning the 50-50 balls in the second half the same way we were in the first.”
The Indians’ first goal came in only the third minute of action off of a header from Indian senior midfielder Jonathan Taylor. Lobbing the ball into the 18-yard box, junior forward Eric Gray set Taylor up for a perfectly placed header that soared past the Grizzlies’ goal keeper and into the back of the net.
It wouldn’t be long before Northwest would tie the match, however, when the Grizzlies capitalized on a called handball in the 11th minute inside Manhattan’s 18-yard box.
Grizzlies junior forward, Andres Lleras, stepped up to take the penalty kick — scoring the first of his three goals in the game.
The Indians would dominate for the remainder of the first half as a series of connecting passes and crosses by the MHS offense led to corner kicks in its favor.
Senior midfielder Evan Williams took the corner and senior defender Aaron Cole found himself in the right place to connect with the cross and redirect the ball into the net to put the Indians back in front.
It was a mistake by the Northwest defense that set up the Indians’ third goal when a Grizzlies defender passed the ball into the center of his own 18-yard box. The pass was intercepted by MHS junior forward Peter Maier, who turned and rocketed a shot past the Northwest goalkeeper.
Despite a solid first-half effort by the Indians, the same could not be said for their second half. As the cool fall temperature dwindled down, so did the Indians’ lead.
“They started sending a few more numbers forward,” Massanet said. “They switched to a sweeper-stopper, and I think that threw us off a little bit. We stopped going through the midfield the way we were in the first half.”
Consecutive goals from Lleras tied the game 3-3 by the 16th minute of play. With 13 minutes remaining in the game, Lleras took a breakaway down the field and sprinted toward MHS’ goal. The Grizzlies outnumbered the Indians on the attack, and Lleras found his teammate, senior Jacob McKay, who took an open shot on goal and secured Northwest’s 4-3 lead.
Despite closing minutes that saw MHS taking shots, hitting the crossbar and leaving fans on the edge of their seats, after numerous goal-scoring opportunities, the Indians just couldn’t put away a goal.
“I think we’re going to have to work on the intensity and the passing through the midfield,” Massanet said, “especially our two-touch passing. We need to get it up, play it through the midfield a little bit quicker and see if we can get the ball wider.”
Manhattan travels to Topeka on Thursday to take on Highland Park. The Indians’ next home game is on Monday against Topeka West at 6:15 p.m.