For 60 minutes on Friday night, the Tooele boys soccer team played basically even with its opponents from Juan Diego — if not a little better.
Unfortunately for the Buffaloes, the first 20 minutes of the Region 10 opener at Soaring Eagle Stadium in Draper couldn’t have gone much worse for the visitors from Tooele. The Buffs came out flat-footed, and it proved costly when the Soaring Eagle scored twice in the opening 10 minutes en route to a 3-0 victory.
“We didn’t come out of the blocks,” Tooele coach Stephen Duggan said. “We just came out too slow. We showed in the next hour that there’s nothing between the two teams.”
Tooele (1-2, 0-1 Region 10) bounced back from the rough start and began putting pressure on Juan Diego’s back line as the first half went along. The Buffs had the Soaring Eagle (2-1-1, 1-0) on their heels near the end of the half, and looked to have a golden opportunity to score in the waning moments before halftime when Chris Rhea got a pass at the left side of the 18-yard box.
Rhea cut toward the goal near the top of the 6-yard box, but was tripped up by a Soaring Eagle defender. Duggan, his team and everyone in the visiting bleachers expected the referee to award Tooele a penalty kick, but no call was made — much to Duggan’s dismay.
“I’m not blaming the referee for the first 20 minutes — that’s on us,” Duggan said. “The first 20 minutes is on our players, but with five or six minutes to go before halftime, we’re 2-nil down and we’re on the ascendancy. They’re sitting back and they’re panicking. You will never see as easy a penalty to call in the game of soccer in your entire life as that was.
“If we go in at the break 2-1 down, that’s a different game. That one decision doesn’t lose the game for us, but it might be a different game after. It’s all about momentum in sports.”
Though they felt they had a scoring opportunity taken from them, the Buffs kept the pressure up in the early part of the second half. Juan Diego didn’t allow Tooele to get any truly dangerous chances, but the Soaring Eagle had to be alert.
The Buffs appeared to dodge a bullet in the 63rd minute when the Soaring Eagle failed to convert on a clear-cut breakaway, but Juan Diego made no mistake 13 minutes later on a free kick from just outside the 18-yard box. After Tooele was whistled for a foul, the Soaring Eagle rushed to put the ball on net while the Buffaloes pled their case to the officials. That momentary loss of focus resulted in a 3-0 Juan Diego lead.
“We came out with the momentum in the second half, and for the first 10-15 minutes, we pressed and pressed and pressed,” Duggan said. “We didn’t really threaten their goal as such — we put some balls in that really should have been better balls with better pace, and (Juan Diego) defended some of the balls well in the air, in fairness to them.”
Despite the disappointing result, Duggan still saw some positive signs from his team as it prepares for Wednesday’s Region 10 home opener against Cedar Valley.
“We got punished for our start, and deservedly so,” Duggan said. “It would have been very easy after being 2-nil down within 10 minutes to just give up, and they didn’t. We’re happy with their effort after the first 20 minutes.”