December 2, 2017

Messiah edges North Park 2-1, wins their 11th Title

By Christan Shirk

Photos by Dave Hilbert, d3photography.com

North Park junior Kyle Robson and Messiah junior David Alejos in action.

Between the men’s finalists, Messiah completely eclipsed North Park in the historical department—ten national titles versus first-ever advancement beyond opening weekend—but the Vikings hadn’t lost since the first week of the season and the current Falcon squad had never been past the Sweet 16 prior to this campaign. In the end, Messiah would claim yet another championship, but they’d have to come from behind to do so as it was North Park who took the first step toward capping their dream season with the program’s first-ever championship when they scored after little more than one minute. Messiah would respond—and quickly—and then snatched a go-ahead goal just before halftime. A third Falcon goal seemed sure to come in the early part of the second half, but instead the lead remained precarious until the last seconds ran off the clock.

First Half

North Park stunned Messiah with a goal just 1:12 into the contest. Gustav Ericsson worked a give-and-go with Jason Gonzalez out on the right to find himself with space to find Shatil Khoury in the arc. Double-teamed, Khoury lost the ball just inside the area, but the ball squirted back out to the trailing Ericsson who one-timed it just inside the left post to open the scoring. The traveling North Park supporters exploded while their counterparts were stunned to see their team scored upon before they had even had a chance to possess the ball in their offensive half.

It was a wake-up call for the Falcons, and off the re-start Messiah would dominate possession for the next twelve minutes which was more in line with what could have been expected given their track record and North Parks’ struggles to prevent Chicago from dominating play in their semifinal the previous day. And although Messiah is usually exceptionally—and sometimes frustratingly—patient in possession, there seemed a greater urgency and scoring-intent to their play. It would quickly pay off when midfielder Danny Brandt served a ball down the left side for Nick West to run onto and cross to an unmarked Justin Bautigam who raced to the top of the 6-yard box between two unaware defenders to head the ball down and into the right side-netting of the goal on one bounce. 1-1 was the score with less than five minutes gone and Bautigam had his third crucial goal in three games after just one in the previous twenty-two.

North Park and Messiah in a well-fought match.

Rather than take their foot off the gas, the Falcons kept the Vikings pinned back and another Messiah goal seemed to be looming. Brandt was accurately—and to great effect—finding West and Colby Thomas down the flanks, and just a minute later West volleyed over the bar off a chip from Thomas. Then, in a near mirror-image of his earlier goal, a wide-open Bautigam nearly headed home off a Thomas cross but it deflected off the late-arriving keeper’s hands. Off the ensuing corner kick, Samuel Ruiz-Plaza took a rip from 25 yards out that the goalkeeper German Zamudio could only parry away. Zamudio was being kept busy and next had to make a kick-save at the right post after Thomas beat a pair of defenders inside the area. All that in just four minutes following the equalizer.

In the 11th minute, North Park was finally able to get out of their own half when Ericsson carried the ball from his defensive third all the way into their attacking third before slipping the ball to Khoury cutting in from the right side to take a shot from the top of the box but right into the chest of the goalkeeper. The Ericsson-Khoury combination would cause Messiah fits on the counter-attack two more times in the next couple minutes—and throughout the remainder of the first half—but in the end their shots were saved comfortably by Messiah keeper Connor Bell. Nevertheless, Messiah looked vulnerable despite all their possession with the probability of a quick North Park counter-attack producing the game’s next goal seeming to grow as the edge-of-your-seats opening thirteen minutes gave way to a less dramatic and more sustainable pace.

Messiah would continue to hold more possession, but North Park regrouped defensively to limit the Falcon’s good looks. Goal-scoring opportunities, which were becoming much less frequent, would come for both teams in equal measure in the final half hour of the opening stanza. As the half was winding down, a North Park forward pass into the box looked to be overhit for an easy keeper save, but Messiah fans had to hold their breath when a slight touch of the ball by a defender on the edge of the area slowed the pass and Bell was just able to cover before the intended recipient could take advantage.

North Park freshman keeper Mathias Stulen had six saves in the 2-1 loss.

A 1-1 draw at halftime was beckoning, but Messiah made one last push and a cross from the right corner flag by an overlapping Josh Bender set up a pair of substitutes to combine on a go-ahead goal with 34 seconds left on the clock. The ball just cleared two Viking defenders and Messiah forward Ben Haines near the top of the 6-yard box and fell for Brit Haseltine who popped the high-bouncing ball back to Haines who’s initial mistouch didn’t cost him the chance to get off a quick left-footed shot that beat the keeper at the left post. The injury-plagued junior’s first collegiate goal couldn’t have come at a more important time and time would tell if it would be a game-winner to boot, but for now it gave Messiah a 2-1 halftime lead.

Second Half

On the other side of the interval, Messiah was finding time and space in the attacking third and pushed hard for an insurance goal for the first twenty-five minutes of the half. It only took 45 seconds for Messiah’s first chance when West beat his man on the left edge of the area and served a ball to the far post for Kirby Robbins who elevated over two defenders but his header went wide of the post.

Robbins would make his presence felt much more in the second half than the first, collecting a looping ball from Brandt at the edge of the area for a shot on goal in the 48th minute, almost going one-on-one with the keeper in the 52nd minute before the linesman’s flag went up for a controversial offside call, and then in the 54th minute winning a 50/50 ball 40 yards out and running at the defense with pace before finding West streaking toward the area on his left. West put his low shot to the opposite corner off the right post. Sandwiched in there was North Park’s lone shot—a Khoury effort from 20 yards that went well over the bar—during the Messiah-dominated twenty-five minute stretch coming out of halftime.

West, who terrorized his mark all night, rounded his defender as he entered the area in the 58th minute but Thomas, in traffic, couldn’t redirect the centering pass on frame. But it seemed just a matter of time until Messiah doubled their advantage and Brandt almost did just that minutes later went he cut the ball back at the top of the arc to free himself for a low left-footed shot that rolled just wide of the right post. He would volley over a cross from Bender when left free in the area in the 64th minute. Messiah would create another pair of chances for West, but the lead remained just one goal.

Messiah celebrates with their 11th Walnut and Bronze.

Having survived the pressure and some close calls, North Park adjusted their formation and the game was largely played in the midfield until the game clock ran down under ten minutes. The Vikings would create a few decent chances as they pressed for a late equalizer to keep their season alive. With just 8:24 remaining, Henrik Roesholt was given plenty of space 30 yards from goal, but his hard shot—just North Park’s third of the half—was well wide of the mark. Their best chance to tie the score came three minutes later when Carel Kawele, who was kept quiet most of the night, received the ball with space near the penalty spot. Unfortunately the square pass from Khoury was a tad behind him and that little hesitation to collect the ball allowed the defense to close and get a touch to deflect the shot wide for a corner kick.

North Park would have possession in the area with just over three minutes remaining, but every touch of the ball was immediately met with a Messiah double-team and the Vikings struggled to find any daylight for a shot before Kawele poked the ball over the bar for their last chance of the game. Messiah would be the team back on the front foot in the final minute and the game would finish 2-1. The Falcons added an eleventh title—the first for this group of players—to the ten won from 2000 to 2013.

North Park finished their best-ever season with a 20-2-2 mark. Messiah’s record rose to 24-2-0 as a footnote to another Championship.

 


Comments or feedback for the author?  Email Christan Shirk.

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