For a Spokane Shadow soccer team looking to defend its Northwest Division championship and qualify for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a win over in-state rival Yakima would be just what the doctor ordered.
A win was just what they got.
Behind goals by Tim Seely and Brett Hite, the Shadow registered a well-deserved 2-1 victory over the Reds in front of 2,083 fans at Joe Albi stadium Saturday night.
But the win didn’t come easily.
The Shadow, who have been practicing with a full squad for just over a week, were slow to start and were outplayed by the Reds the first 10 minutes or so.
“We were a little slow coming out of the gate,” head coach Stuart Saunders said. “Once we started playing I thought we were a lot better.”
“We wanted to knock the ball around, keep it on the ground,” Saunders said. “Once we were able to do that we were OK, but initially we struggled getting that continuity together.”
Once the Shadow did settle down, they were more than OK. They dominated play for most of the last 80 minutes, holding possession and playing most of the game in the Yakima end.
But in the first half, the goals just weren’t coming.
The first real chance actually fell to Yakima.
With the Shadow losing possession deep in their own end, the ball fell to Yakima midfielder Tyler Suhm. Suhm sent a ball across the face of the goal before it was finally cleared by Shadow captain Kieran Barton.
That was Yakima’s only real opportunity of the first half as the Shadow slowly started imposing their will on the game.
The best Shadow opportunity in the first half fell to Seely. Ben Sawyer made a run down the right wing and sent a perfect cross to Seely, who headed the ball down at the feet of Chris Eylander, but the Reds keeper, who split time as the Shadow net-minder last year, got down quickly and made a tremendous save with his left hand.
Spokane finally broke through just after the break.
In the 48th minute, Evan Cummings, a Ferris grad, sent a long ball over the top of the defense and sent Seely free. Eylander came out to challenge Seely, but the 29-year-old showed his experience, calmly chipping over Eylander and then tapping it home into the open net.
“We (Evan and I) made eye contact and the ball happened to sit up there a little bit,” Seely said. “I was fortunate enough to get on the end of it and I saw the keeper go down and so I chipped it over him and well, we’ll take it.”
Getting the early goal seemed to do wonders for the Shadow’s confidence.
“It was huge,” Saunders said. “We wanted to be in control of the ball. We were in control in the first half, but we wanted to have a little more flow in what we were trying to do.”
“We talked about it (scoring early) right when we came on the field after halftime,” Barton said. “We gotta start the second half the way we finished the first half and see if we can get one in the first 10 minutes and it ended up coming at two and a half.
“It helps just to get everyone going again, just to get through that initial wave of energy.”
As skittish as the Shadow were in the first 10 minutes, Yakima was just as unsettled in the second half. Spokane really had control of the play, led by Seely, who was all over the place in his first game in three years.
“It takes time,” Seely said. “We’ve only had four practices. It takes some time to get used to each other and all that stuff, but we got a good nucleus, a good core, a good set of young kids and we have a good leader in Kieran.
“It was a big deal (to score early). We got kind of a tongue-lashing at halftime, the boss (Saunders) wanted us to get out of the gate faster in the second half and we got a good goal and I thought played really well in the second half.”
The Shadow nearly got their second goal in the 66th minute, as Palladino took a bouncing ball and hit a 25-yard volley that looked destined for the net, only to hit the inside corner of the right post and the crossbar and bounce harmlessly to the side.
The second goal finally came in the 69th minute.
Stuck deep in their own end, the Shadow played some nifty one-touch soccer and the ball made its way to Troy Ready at midfield. He somehow fed the ball between two defenders to Hite, who took his first touch into space, blew by two defenders and ripped a shot that Eylander could only push into the top left corner of his net.
“Sometimes things work out like that,” Hite said. “Sometimes you can’t score in 80 minutes, others you can get lucky on your first touch.”
Yakima got one back in the 73rd minute with a wonderful strike by Talebi.
A long ball bounced off Johnson to Talebi, who then smashed a 35-yard volley over the head of Wright and into the top left corner of the net.
But it was too little too late for the Reds.
“It was an Open Cup game, so it meant a little more than the ones later in the year,” Barton said. “It was kind of a double victory for us tonight.”
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