A WEEKEND OF LESSONS LEARNED, CHALLENGES EXPOSED
LESSONS LEARNED, CHALLENGES EXPOSED AS THE SAVAGE TAKE DOWN THE WINGS
"Some of the best soccer I've seen played in my life."
"That was the most exciting game I've ever been to."
"Our boys really kept up with them, I'm proud how they are coming along."
With social media posts and post-game conversations like this, you might think the Wichita Wings won both games against the Chihuahua Savage this weekend. The Orange Army saw their team take on the best in the league and they were impressed, despite the new team losing to the experienced players on the Mexican squad. The fans didn't see losses, they saw a growing team with tons of potential and lots to cheer about.
Coach Roger Downing is not surprised.
"First off, the fan support was incredible all weekend. The men left everything they had on the field to the point of exhaustion. I was incredibly proud of our effort this weekend. We have only been together for a few months and to compete with such a quality team like the Savage all game just shows a glimpse of what our final product will be," Downing said.
More tough opponents and strong performances should only help the new team grow.
"I thought as a whole we worked hard, but made some young, dumb decisions at times. We will take a lot away from this weekend moving forward, and we hope to see the Savage again in the championships," said Downing. "I believe the fans would enjoy that, as well."
The Chihuahua Savage traveled nearly 1000 miles to narrowly beat the Wichita Wings on Saturday in a shoot out, 5-5 with 3-2 in the shoot out - leaving the final tally 8-9. They then followed up with a more decisive victory over the Wings on Sunday, 4-8. The Savage had large groups of fans at both matches, which elevated the game and the atmosphere of the arena.
"For the Savage fans to come this far just shows their love for the team," said Downing. Noting that the two teams enjoyed the fierce competition combined with friendly camaraderie, he said "everyone is competitive on the field and they want to win. Acting like a gentleman off the field with class... that’s what separates the men from the boys. I believe our guys showed that side this weekend."
Near the end of the match on Sunday, the Wings decided to pull Steven "Hammer" Hamersky and bring in a sixth attacker to attempt to even the score and force the game into overtime. Kevin Ten Eyck took over for Hamersky, who was the Wings player of the game with 23 saves on Sunday (and an additional 13 on Saturday).
"Hammer was a stand out for us, he’s so good that as a coach, player, and even as fans, we take him for granted," said Downing.
The addition of the extra man didn't help even the score for the Wings, but Ten Eyck made a spectacular save on a penalty kick in the last moments of the game that lifted the Orange Army to their feet and lifted their spirits.
"I got lucky," said Ten Eyck, "he shot it right at me, so it wasn't too tough. I'm just glad he didn't try to dribble me."
Pulling the goalkeeper is always a risk, however Ten Eyck understands how important that risk can be.
"Sixth attacker is a tough job. Any kind of turnover and you're the last man back and responsible for stopping the attacker - while he can shoot at any point. Everything kind of relies on you, which increases the pressure," Ten Eyck said.
Going into the match on Saturday the Wings and the Savage were the two final unbeaten teams in the MASL2 with the Savage slightly ahead on goal differential. The Wings now sit in second place after the two losses.
"We saw how good the best team was, and we have a lot to learn and work on," said Ten Eyck."I'm glad these games came about halfway through the season. It gave us a good measuring stick to see where we stand. We have to take what we learned from them and apply them to our next opponents so we knock out those mistakes and get better as a team."
Both teams spent Sunday afternoon peppering the opposing teams goals, but the Savage took 31 shots in comparison to the Wings' 18 shots-on-goal. Alex Mosley, Bryan Perez, Nico and Leo Sosa all contributed to the Wings total with a goal each while David Cardenas of the Savage turned in a hat-trick performance. The game was a tough one, played hard, which led to many fouls and penalties and players from both teams sitting in the sin bin - with a player from each side additionally taking a seat for five minutes
The teams were pretty evenly-matched on the pitch, with neither team taking a significant lead on Saturday and without the Savage pulling ahead significantly until the fourth quarter on Sunday afternoon with three goals.
This weekend the Wings only face extra practice and no opponents. But, a new challenge is awaiting them on Feb. 1.
"Next up we have the Inferno who are sitting in 3rd place at 5-3 right behind us," said Downing. "They are explosive on the offensive end of the field. It will be important that we get numbers behind the ball and communicate on the defensive end. This should be another intense, action-packed game that the men will be ready for."
Ten Eyck said the weekend without games will be a much-needed break.
"Not having a game this upcoming weekend will be very nice for us. We can get some people healthy who have had nagging injuries," Ten Eyck said.
The Wings and the Inferno clash at at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1 at Hartman Arena in Park City. Tickets are still available for purchase both at Hartman Arena and on Ticketmaster.