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First win over St. Cloud Tech in years has Alexandria looking like a Section 8AA contender through a 5-0 start

Myles Sansted and Jack Carlson scored goals, and that was enough to beat a perennially-strong Tigers team 2-1 in a battle between two of the best teams in Section 8AA this year.

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Alexandria senior Myles Sansted (middle) runs toward his bench as Jack Carlson (right) and Cole Haabala rush to celebrate with him after Sansted tied the game against St. Cloud Tech at 1-1 in the first half on Sept. 9, 2021. Carlson added a second-half goal on a free kick from 25 yards out that ended up being the game-winner as the Cardinals improved to 5-0 with a 2-1 win over the Tigers. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Much of the season still has to play out, but the Alexandria and St. Cloud Tech boys soccer teams look like two of the top programs in the Section 8AA field early this year.

Playing as a section contender is nothing new for the Tigers. They are coming off a 12-2-1 overall record playing out of Section 8A and a 17-3-1 season in 2019.

That’s why the Cardinals were eager to face this Tech team as they put their 4-0 record on the line after four straight shutouts to start the season. Alexandria certainly proved itself as the Cardinals moved to 5-0 by edging St. Cloud Tech, 2-1.

“This is probably the strongest the program has been since (2004) when we went to state for the first and only time,” Alexandria junior forward Jack Carlson said. “If there is a year to do it, it’s going to be right now. It’s super exciting to beat a team like this that we know is going to play soccer the right way. We stood up with a strong game plan, and that’s what it took.”

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Alexandria sophomore Cole Haabala gets to a ball off of a first-half corner kick for the Cardinals that he sent on goal against St. Cloud Tech on Sept. 9, 2021. Haabala's shot led to a loose-ball situation in front of the net that teammate Myles Sansted tapped in for a goal that tied the game at 1-1 in the Cardinals' eventual 2-1 win. (Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press)

The game-winner came on a free kick from 25 yards out with almost 20 minutes left in the second half. Carlson has been an offensive weapon for Alexandria all season, and he stepped up when needed Thursday.

Carlson’s kick lofted over the Tigers’ defensive line and hit on the low side of the top bar. The ball ricocheted almost straight down. After a bit of a delay, referees ruled it crossed the goal line as Carlson and his teammates celebrated.

“I just remember yelling my head off just begging for that goal,” Carlson said. “Once it’s given, I’ve celebrated a couple times this year, but I think that is the most berserk I’ve gone probably in my life. That’s a great moment.”

It was the momentum shift Alexandria needed after the Tigers had possessed the ball a lot throughout the night.

“I think the goal goes in and their heads drop enough that it’s enough to give it to us because they don’t play their game,” Carlson said. “They don’t want to play it to the back and play around. They kick it forward just desperate for that goal, and that’s where we’re our strongest with I’d say the best back four in the CLC right now.”

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Alexandria senior Tyler Bright goes high to head a ball against St. Cloud Tech's Khalid Yussuf on Sept. 9, 2021. Bright is part of a defensive core with Colin Reilly, Bjorn Karlstad and Bryce Paffrath that has allowed just one goal through a 5-0 start. (Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press)

The Tigers scored the first goal of the season against Alexandria less than 10 minutes into the game. Junior Abdurahman Ismail got free in the box as a loose ball found its way in front of the net. He put it in for an early 1-0 lead.

The Cardinals answered back not long after on a similar goal themselves after a corner kick. Sophomore Cole Haabala sent a shot toward the goal that was deflected back in front of the net. Senior Myles Sansted was there to tap it in for a 1-1 tie.

“This team never gives up,” Alexandria senior goalkeeper Ryan Meuwissen said. “We went down 1-0 and we never gave up from there. It was all grit. (Myles’ goal) gave us a huge momentum shift because as soon as he scored that goal, we kind of figured out how we could attack this team. At half, we went into the shed and figured out how to pick apart that defense enough to get another goal from Jack.”

Carlson’s goal won it, but the play of Meuwissen early in the second half helped make that possible. The Tigers applied pressure that led to some of their best looks at the net all night, but Meuwissen made multiple diving stops to keep it a scoreless game.

“It all started with that first goal they scored on me,” Meuwissen said. “We haven’t played any team that fast before. Normally in the box, I get that ball, but I didn’t get it. I had to play a little calmer. When they kept up the pressure, I was just like, ‘Keep calm. Keep cool.’”

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Alexandria junior Bryce Paffrath defends along the sideline against St. Cloud Tech on Sept. 9, 2021. (Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press)

The defense in front of Meuwissen is anchored by senior Colin Reilly and junior Bryce Paffrath on the outside and seniors Tyler Bright and Bjorn Karlstad in the center. That whole group has made life difficult for offenses all year, and they stood up to their toughest challenge against a fast Tech team that scored nine goals against Sauk Rapids-Rice on Sept. 2.

“The team trusts those guys,” Alexandria head coach Brandon Johnson said of his four defenders. “They trust that if that ball gets there, those four dudes are going to work their tail off before they let a shot near Ryan. Then there’s even further trust when you start talking about Ryan. It allows those guys the freedom to do what they need to do and that’s protect the ball.”

Johnson felt the biggest keys to coming out with a win was the tenacity his guys showed, the way they stayed patient, and how their depth was able to match the depth of the Tigers.

“We came in and were only focused on what was in front of us,” Johnson said. “They were patient. We let (Tech) have the ball. They’re a very skilled team, and you just have to respect that. We had to let them make their own mistakes. Someone is going to make a mistake along the way, and that allowed us an opportunity.”

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Alexandria senior goalkeeper Ryan Meuwissen kicks a ball downfield during the first half against St. Cloud Tech on Sept. 9, 2021. Meuwissen has allowed just one goal all season as he made multiple key stops in the second half against the Tigers on Thursday to help the Cardinals secure a 2-1 win. (Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press)

Johnson could not remember exactly the last time Alexandria beat St. Cloud Tech, but it’s been multiple years. The Cardinals are now the only team in Section 8AA without a loss.

A 5-0 start does not make a season, but players are believing more and more with every win.

“We’re just taking it one game at a time. Getting the work in at practice, working on keeping the ball moving,” Carlson said. “We want to reach the level of teams like Tech and keep the ball as much as they can. That’s the end goal, I think. We’re just looking to win one game at a time and then go from there.”

Related Topics: SOCCER
Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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