Manhattan High’s goal, as it is every season, is to make the state tournament.
After a 4-1 victory over seventh-seeded Lawrence Free State on Tuesday night, they are one game closer.
The Indians led comfortably all night long, but the game wasn’t business as usual for Manhattan. The Firebirds gave up far less scoring chances and were plenty physical.
“It’s playoff soccer,” Manhattan coach Frank Alonso said. “It’s going to be physical, and it’s going to be chippy. They’ll go through you to get the ball. It’s more intense and more physical and pretty teams don’t do well. It was nice for us to roll up our sleeves and hit as hard as they did.
“It’s playoff soccer — it’s ugly.”
Two Indians received yellow cards in the match, and the officials were trying to keep the peace in the second half. But Manhattan held their own, outshooting Free State 11-3 in the match and taking a two-goal lead to halftime.
Eric Gray got the first goal on an assist from Peter Maier. Free State’s goalkeeper came forward to grab the ball but it was deflected past him and toward Gray, who fired it into the back of the net in the 11th minute.
Manhattan scored again on an Alex Dzewaltowski goal on a Jacob Stutheit assist in the 29th minute of the first half.
“We were very clinical up front today,” Alonso said. “Everytime we went forward, we looked dangerous. But they did a really nice job in the first 15-20 minutes, we didn’t get much of the ball. I thought the second half we made some changes and some tweaks and the second half was a lot different.”
In the second half, Manhattan quickly scored on a Maier goal from Jonathan Taylor in the second minute. Maier scored again, this time on an assist from Gray, in the 16th minute to give Manhattan a 4-0 lead.
Alonso said he was pleased with his defense, which pitched a shutout until the final minute of the game.
“Before the game, we challenged the defense to step it up a little bit,” he said. “I think there’s always goals in our team, defensively we’ve got very good players, but we’ve lacked a little concentration at times as a team.”
Free State’s Antonio Schoneich scored with a header from a corner by Caleb Francis in the last minute of the game with Manhattan’s starters on the bench.
“We knew with them playing in the Kansas City league, that they’d faced a lot of physical teams,” Maier said. “We knew they’d be good, even if they didn’t have a great record.”
“They’re a nightmare as a seven seed.” Alonso said. “They were very good. I thought they were the better team in the first half.”
With a playoff victory in the books, Manhattan now gets a day off before facing Lawrence High, which advanced past Topeka High 2-0 Tuesday. MHS beat Lawrence 1-0 in the season opener back in August.
“I think they’re the best team we’ve played all year,” Alonso said. “It was a scrappy game.”
Despite the Lawrence game coming in the first week of the season, Gray hasn’t forgotten how tough that game was.
“Lawrence is always big and physical,” Gray said. “If we win one more, we’ll be one game away from state, so that’s big. But we’ve already beaten them once.”
Alonso said the team will take it easy today before the Thursday match.
“We’ll have a light workout and maybe watch some game film,” he said. “We’ll have a scouting report and go from there.”