Tasked with hosting the No. 3 ranked team in Class A, the Alexandria boys soccer team had no easy job on Tuesday.
St. Cloud Apollo walked out with a 3-1 win at AAHS, but the Cardinals walked out satisfied with how the match played out.
“We played really well as a team. The guys worked really, really hard,” Alex head coach Cahil Collins said. “We can play with these guys. We can play with (the best) in the state if we bring it and flip that switch mentally that we can play with anybody.”
The Eagles (8-1-1) still dictated the pace early on. They opened the scoring in the 17th minute, when Abdikarin Yussuf buried a header past the diving efforts of Cardinal keeper Zach Wosepka off a textbook cross from Logan Lommel.
Apollo added to the tally when Lommel netted a goal of his own, a low and hard shot in the 25th minute that put the Eagles in a 2-0 lead.
The score held into the half, but the work ethic showed its fruit right out of the break for Alexandria (3-7).
After Joshua Kietzmann rushed into the box in the 41st minute, St. Cloud Apollo evaded immediate danger by clearing out of bounds. It won Alexandria a corner kick, and Joseph Westlund was fouled in the box while elevating for a header attempt.
JJ Foster stepped up for the penalty kick, and he buried the shot low and right to bring the Cardinals back within a goal.
Alex had a number of chances for the equalizer, but the Eagles shut them down with a suffocating defense whenever a small window of opportunity surfaced.
“Because they’re such a great team, they had a lot of offensive power,” Wosepka said. “We were kind of playing on our heels a little bit. We had a lot of people coming back. That (kept) a lot of people in the backfield rather than being up in the attack.”
Wosepka was the beneficiary of the bounces throughout much of the night, as one Apollo shot struck the post and another three went off the crossbar, the latter two off deflections from Wosepka.
The Eagles eventually took advantage of a bounce when Hamze Hussein buried a third-chance shot in the 72th minute. Wosepka had two sprawling saves, but Hussein was in place for the rebound and finally scored, which set up the 3-1 final.
But it didn’t stop Alexandria from seeing the positives from the match.
“I thought we played really well. Apollo is a really good team. They have a lot of talent,” Wosepka said. “We really stepped up in these recent few games here, and I’m really proud of the team. We played a solid defensive game.”
Collins was proud of his keeper’s efforts, as well.
“He did a fantastic job. I’m so pleased with Zach,” he said. “It inspires the rest of the team. It really does. When he steps up like that, the rest of the team says, ‘Yes, we can do this.’”
For Wosepka, his approach to the game starts with the mental side.
“I try to prepare for every single game the same exact way, no matter what team we play,” he said. “You’ve got to just play gritty and don’t accept anything less than your best.”
He’ll carry that mindset alongside his teammates into Thursday’s 7 p.m. game against St. Cloud Tech at AAHS.