Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
With just over 73 minutes played, North Olmsted was clinging to a 1-0 lead over arch-rival Westlake.
But the Demons, looking to hold on to first place in the Southwestern Conference, had just enough sense of urgency to make one last run.
With 6:50 left in the game, Dakota Swisher sent the ball to Adam Thompson on the left side. From just inside 25 yards, he launched a shot that found the inside of the far post. That allowed visiting Westlake to salvage a 1-1 tie and remain in the SWC race with two games remaining.
North Olmsted, which got a goal from Austen Medley in the first minute of the second half, fell to 3-1-1 in the SWC and went home wondering what could have been.
“You’ve got to finish games,” said North Olmsted head coach Chris Marsh, whose team got the best of the Demons through at least three quarters of the game on everything from overall possession to corner kicks.
“To work as hard as we did to score the goal, and then to give up a goal the way we did. They served the ball in, and it went right to one of our guys. We always work on clearing the ball wide, but we headed the ball right to the center of the park.
“Nine out of 10 times, when you head the ball to the center of the park, it’s going to go to one of their center midfielders. And he was standing right there. He finished it very well. It was a very good goal on their part.
“But we also stopped doing what we had done so successfully all game. We just sat back and tried to absorb pressure, which was never the design coming in. They’re big, they’re athletic, they’re physical. Maybe you get intimidated after getting whacked a bit, and so you don’t put a ball exactly where you want to.
“That created chances for them. We give a lot of credit to Westlake for coming back. But we definitely feel soured that we didn’t get what we felt we deserved,” he added.
The Eagles came out of the gate playing fast, aggressive soccer and kept the ball in the Westlake third most of the half. They had five corner kicks in first 40 minutes and nearly had a 1-0 lead in the 19th minute.
After a foul was called in the box, Westlake keeper Jamie Lackner had to dive hard to his left to stop J.J. Ball’s blistering penalty kick. Ball had another shot from 15 yards out stopped by Lackner in the 29th minute.
North Olmsted kept the pressure on to close out the half, then finally broke through with just 44 seconds gone off the clock in the second.
That’s when the Eagles got another corner kick opportunity, this one from the near side left of the North Olmsted bench. Joshua Buchek sent the ball to the far side of the goal toward Kyle Klissaroff, who headed the ball back to the middle.
Waiting there was Medley, who zipped the ball into the back of the net from point-blank range.
“We worked all week on that play,” Marsh said. “I scouted them, and there were two areas where we thought we could attack on corner kicks. We put the ball in one of those two areas on that particular goal, right to Kyle, and he was able to put it back in to Austen, who finished it.”
Westlake head coach Mike Besu knew his team had put itself in a tough spot.
“One thing we tried to stress before the game was that we couldn’t give them free throws or corner kicks,” he said. “Their field is so narrow, and they have guys that are dangerous on those plays because of that.
“We gave up a ton of those in the first half, and that was my beef at halftime. That’s all we were talking about. You’re under pressure, just whack the ball down the field and don’t give them that corner kick. But we didn’t,” he said.
The Back and Orange had the 1-0 lead, but the Demons began to apply some pressure of their own. In the 20th minute, North Olmsted keeper Alec DeAnna had to deflect a Westlake shot over the crossbar. He then could only watch as a ball deep in the box was headed out just seconds later.
North Olmsted continued to hold, but Thompson quickly changed the picture when the Eagles failed to clear a ball in their third. Westlake continued to force the issue in the final minutes, but couldn’t find the back of the net for the game-winner.
The Eagles had the final chance of the game, with an open shot going wide left in the final seonds.
Besu, after a long talk with his team on the far sideline, said his team didn’t play up to it’s capabilities.
“The disappointing part of the whole thing is we didn’t play,” Besu said. “We played the last 10 minutes. We had a couple of chances we didn’t capitalize on, but really, we didn’t play. If we play the way we’re capable of playing it’s a different game.
“No disrespect to them, but we’re a better team. We have better players. But we don’t play as a team. We’re holding on to the ball instead of playing it. We had chances when our forwards were running, but we didn’t play the ball.
“The extra touches, one or two touches, is killing us. We don’t get rid of the ball fast enough. And then when we do, our forwards don’t run, so it’s a combination. It’s the little things, one step here, one thing there, that are killing us,” he added.
Westlake is now 7-2-1 overall and 4-0-1 in the SWC. They trail 5-0 Brecksville, which hosts Berea tonight. The Bees will travel to Westlake’s Read Field next Wednesday night in what could prove to be the league title game.
Regardless, the Demons must still play at Midpark Oct. 6 to close out their SWC season. They host North Royalton in non-conference action Saturday at 7p.m.
North Olmsted is now 4-3-1 and travels to Mayfield Saturday night before returning home to face North Ridgeville Monday.