Suddenly, all three boys soccer squads in the Tooele Valley are starting to click.
In the case of the Tooele Buffaloes, that success has been a long time coming.
Sure, at first glance, Tooele’s 2-6-1 record doesn’t look like much to get excited about. Nor does the Buffs’ modest 1-2 Region 10 record, which had them tied with cross-county rival Grantsville for third place in the standings entering Tuesday’s showdown with the Cowboys.
Consider, for a second, where the Tooele soccer program has been the past couple years, however.
The Buffaloes went 22 matches over parts of three seasons without a win until their breakthrough a couple weeks ago — in a region game, no less — against Union. That sparked a three-match unbeaten streak that included a scoreless draw against Carbon and a commanding 4-1 win over Richfield.
To a casual observer, Tooele’s 3-1 loss to Park City on Friday looks like a step backward. But the second half showed the Buffs they can hang with anybody. In years past, Tooele would have fallen behind 3-0 in a match like Friday’s, and it quickly would have become 4-0, 5-0, 6-0 or worse. Their confidence would have been shot.
Instead, Ken Hamilton’s goal pulled the Buffs within two with 20-plus minutes left in the match, and Tooele played the Miners basically even from that point forward.
You can tell that the Buffs’ brief run of success leading into Friday’s match has changed their attitude completely. They now expect to win and are disappointed when they don’t. But, at the same time, they don’t let their shoulders slump when they do fall behind.
This is groundbreaking stuff for a program that hasn’t seen the postseason in a decade. Suddenly, they have a chance to have a playoff berth all but wrapped up by the time the second half of the region season starts, and they can look at their two losses — a pair of two-goal defeats to the top two teams in the region, Park City and Stansbury — and they believe they can reverse those results the second time around.
It’s way too early for the Buffs to start celebrating and making plans for their return to the postseason — particularly after seeing Grantsville upend Union on the road and thrust itself right into the middle of the playoff conversation. While another win or two sends the Buffaloes to the state tournament, a bad match or two over the final five could leave them on the outside looking in yet again. They’ve seen it happen too many times.
But for the first time in years, there’s reason to be optimistic as the regular season heads into its final month. And that alone is an accomplishment.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. As someone who has played a lot of bad soccer in his life, he can appreciate good soccer when he sees it. Email him at email@example.com.