Facing its toughest remaining test in the Centennial League slate, the Manhattan High boys’ soccer team knew it had to beat Hayden to keep pace with Washburn Rural at the top of the league standings.
Instead, the Indians lost 2-1 in a frustrating game that went down to the wire in Topeka on Tuesday afternoon.
Hayden got the go-ahead goal with two minutes to play to take the lead after being stuck in a 1-1 tie with the Indians for most of the second period.
The loss drops Manhattan (8-2-1) into a tie with Hayden in the league, with Rural a game up on both teams. While the Indians aren’t mathematically eliminated from league-title contention, they no longer control their own destiny.
The game’s impact on the league standings are oddly similar to last year. After earning a hard-fought tie with Rural last year, the Indians slipped against Hayden and lost out on the chance to share the title with the Junior Blues.
Manhattan coach Frank Alonso was more frustrated by the way Manhattan lost, not the fact they were beaten.
“Honestly, we played very nervous and very tentative from the first go,” he said. “We had to win and we weren’t aggressive today. Hayden’s a good team, but we just looked scared to win, which is surprising.
“I’m very disappointed, not in the fact we lost, but in the manner in which we lost. We looked like we were scared to get a share of the title.”
Manhattan has struggled at Hayden (8-2-0) before. Because the field doesn’t have lights, varsity games start at 4 p.m. instead of 6:15. The potential to lose focus is always there when the standard routine is shaken up.
“Today we got off the bus and we didn’t come very focused or prepared mentally,” senior captain Matt Liotta said. “We didn’t have the right attitude when we stepped onto the field. It started in warm-ups and came back to bite us later in the game.”
Early on, Manhattan looked like it might win in spite of a lackluster performance.
The Indians took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Kirkland Lambert in the 20th minute and kept that lead through halftime.
But 10 minutes into the second half, Hayden got its first goal to tie the game, immediately putting pressure on the Indians to respond.
“Right at the beginning of the second half, we had some good possessions, but when Hayden got a goal we panicked a little bit — we didn’t keep our heads,” senior captain Jonathan Turnley said. “Instead of passing it, we were trying to play the ball to direct and turned it over too much, giving them even more chances.”
Senior captain Peter Maier said Hayden had too many scoring opportunities in the second half, though goalkeeper Alex Richt finished with seven saves.
“They had a lot more chances,” Maier said. “Our rhythm was kind of off the entire game. We didn’t really have much flow and we didn’t connect our passes. Hayden’s a strong team and we knew we couldn’t underestimate them.”
Manhattan held off Hayden for much of the second half before finally allowing a goal with two minutes left, leaving them virtually no time to respond.
“There really are no excuses, but this seems to happen every year, where we can’t really get these guys,” Maier said. “It’s definitely a little different getting off the bus and not having time to get as mentally prepared, but there’s no excuses.”
Turnley said the team has to put it out of mind and focus on finishing out the regular season strong.
“We’ve just got to put it in the back of our mind,” he said. “Learn from it, but then move on. We know we’re a good team and if we’re playing our best will do well the rest of the season.”
Liotta said the team must get better, starting with Thursday’s home match against Topeka High at Bishop Stadium.
“We lost to a team that played better than us today, and we’ve got to learn from it,” Liotta said. “We got better from our last loss, and I know we can get better from this, too.”