Playing most of its home games at Hummer Sports Park, the Topeka West boys’ soccer team typically doesn’t have an issue with facilities.
But on Monday night, the Chargers were forced to move their game against Manhattan because of a scheduling conflict. The end result was a game played on a field not typically used for varsity soccer matches.
“It wasn’t their normal field,” Manhattan coach Frank Alonso said. “And half of the floodlights didn’t work, so it was an interesting game to say the least. It was very dark and it wasn’t conducive to playing good soccer.”
Manhattan (11-3-1) managed to win anyway, beating the Chargers 5-1. The Indians play one more regular-season game before the playoffs begin, traveling to Junction City on Thursday.
Alonso wasn’t disappointed with his team’s effort, especially considering the conditions. But he would like to see the Indians find more of a playoff mentality as the season comes to an end.
“We have to take our chances when we get them and not let down when we’re winning,” Alonso said. “It’s the playoffs — it’s one mistake, one goal and you’re out. The mentality just has to be a little sharper this time of year.”
After a mostly scoreless first half, Manhattan got a pair of quick goals in the final 10 minutes. Austin French struck first, with Jonathan Turnley adding a goal in the 38th minute to take a 2-0 lead to the break.
Peter Maier made it 3-0 in the 56th minute, with the Chargers scoring their only goal of the night less than two minutes later. Eric Gray answered right back with a goal a minute later and French added his second goal of the night in the 65th minute to make it 5-1.
Alonso added that while his defense has played well this year, they have a tendency to let in easy goals after the game has been decided, which shouldn’t happen.
“We’re letting in cheap goals when we’re dominating,” he said. “We’ve done that against Topeka High, we did it tonight, we’ve done it three or four times. We’re talented in the back and we’ve got a very good goalkeeper, we just don’t focus the whole time in games when we should put them away.”
With each team playing just one more match before playoff seeds are decided, the outlook for Manhattan is becoming clearer. The team will likely earn a No. 5 seed in the new format, which divides the state in half east vs. west and seeds each team 1-16. That would mean a home match with the No. 12 seed — likely to be Lawrence Free State — before a trip to play the No. 4 seed — likely to be Washburn Rural — should the team advance.
“In setups before, we’d have hosted a regional final game, but now we’re on the road,” Alonso said. “And we’re in the top part of the bracket. There’s nowhere to hide in that bracket. But we know we’re as good as the other top teams, we’ve just got to come out and compete.”
Wichita Northwest (15-1) will likely earn the region’s top seed, with Derby (13-2) and Garden City (13-2) also ahead of Rural (11-2-2) and Manhattan. Washburn Rural won a pair of highly competitive non-league matchups this week against St. Thomas Aquinas and St. James Academy to stay ahead of the Indians in the pecking order.
Manhattan senior Ibrahim Altamimi said the team is ready to take on the playoffs.
“We’re as ready as we’re ever going to be,” he said. “No matter what happens, we’re going to give it our best shot.”
Before Manhattan can look to the playoffs, the team must take care of business against Junction City, which isn’t as much of a rivalry in boys’ soccer.
“It’s a geographic rivalry for us,” Alonso said. “And to be fair, they’ve been getting closer to us in the past few years. But if we play well and have a good performance, we should be OK.”