Story by John McDermott
Photos by Tyler Wick of Wick Images
Westlake boys soccer coach Mike Besu may not have gone as far as to say his team won ugly. But knowing what still lies ahead for the Demons, he is quick to take the win and move on
Behind goals from senior Nick Wertman and juniors Adam Thompson and Dakota Swisher, Westlake remained perfect on the season, posting a 3-0 victory over visiting Amherst. The Demons improved to 2-0 in Southwestern Conference play and 4-0 overall on the season.
But head coach Mike Besu knows, with what lies ahead on the schedule, his Westlake squad is still far from a finished product.
“I really thought that, in the last 10 or 15 minutes, we got a little lazy,” Besu said of his team’s play.
“Some of the kids are just getting back from injuries, and we are trying to get them all back in the flow of the game,” Besu said. “We have to get them in a little better shape because we still have a long season ahead of us.
“We have a pretty good young team. We’re young, we’re semi-rebuilding, but we have some kids who can play. Especially at home, we’ve been playing tougher and tougher. Starting 4-0, playing the type of schedule that we are, I’m happy with the kids,” Besu said.
Despite the sluggish play, Westlake was still a step or two ahead of Amherst all night long. After playing scoreless for the first 28 minutes of the match, the Demons used a pair of fast-break goals to take control of the contest.
Thompson put Westlake on the board first at the 12:21 mark of the first half. Taking a long pass from across midfield and sprinting past the Amherst defense, Thompson connected from 20-yards out on the left side of the box.
Just over six minutes later, Demon sophomore midfielder Omar Salem found Wertman with on a great pass from the center of the field, and Wertman fired a shot past Comets sophomore goalie Josh Daugherty.
At that point, the momentum of the match swung completely in favor of the Demons.
“I thought that when they scored that first goal, it just deflated us,” admitted Amherst coach Brett Thompson, who saw his team slip to 0-2 in SWC play and 1-4 on the year. “Up until that point, for the first 25 minutes, we were just as good as they were. I thought it was a very even game. But after that goal, we hung our heads.
“We’ve lost four games, and tonight was our worst result, even though I thought we played our best this year. Now it’s my job, as the coach, to convince the kids that, even though we gave up a couple goals, we played very well,” he added.
Westlake outshot Amherst on the night, 22-12, and held a 12-3 edge before the half.
The Demons’ final goal came with 34:25 to play as Wertman worked his way around four Comet defenders and slipped a crossing pass to Swisher from the right to the left side of the box. Swisher took the pass and drove home a five foot shot just past Amherst’s Daugherty.
Wertman was pleased with his team’s play.
“I thought we played pretty well tonight,” the Demons’ captain said. “We came out real aggressive, and that’s the first time we came out like that this year. We came out ready to play. We were a step quicker than they were and we won all the 50/50 balls. It was nice.”
Amherst’s best chance to get on the board came at the 9:15 mark of the second half. Freshman Andrew Dzoba had a pair of point-blank range shots on goal, one swatted away by Westlake senior keeper Jamie Lackner and the second off the rebound missing wide right.
Lackner, who collected seven saves on the night and five of those in the second half, was happy to keep the shutout intact.
“Usually you don’t have time to think, it’s just reaction,” admitted Lackner. “I just try to put myself in front of the ball and hope for the best. Our defense played great the whole game, so that sequence was a little hiccup. I’m glad I could help them out.”
Despite the loss, Amherst’s Thompson did see some bright spots in the Comets play.
“It’s been tough, but I do see the improvement,” he said. “We bring back just two players that saw any action last year, and that was limited, so we are really replacing all 11 starters and some key reserves. That’s tough to have to do.”
Next up for Westlake is an SWC showdown when Avon Lake visits on Wednesday, followed up with another big match with Solon on Saturday.
“Avon Lake on Wednesday and Solon on Saturday, so it doesn’t get any easier,” Besu said, laughing.
“I told the kids that I read the top 10 rankings today, and we are playing seven of those teams. We’ll just take one at a time. By playing against them, we will be a much better team for the playoffs,” he added.
Southwestern Conference Standings
1. Westlake 2-0 (4-0); 2. North Olmsted 2-0 (3-1); 3. Brecksville 2-0 (0-0); 4. Olmsted Falls 0-1 (0-1); 5. Amherst (0-2 (1-4); 6. Berea 0-1 (0-0); 7. Midpark 0-0 (0-1); 8. Avon Lake 0-0 (0-0)