Alexandria boys soccer head coach Brandon Johnson believes that his team would be 2-1-0 through the first three games of the season if it weren’t for two penalty kick goals this year.
Instead, the Cardinals are 0-1-2 and still searching for their first win.
On Thursday, the Cardinals and the Sauk Rapids-Rice Storm ended the match in a 1-1 tie despite an abundance of scoring chances for both teams.
“It’s frustrating, but we are playing well defensively, and we are getting the shots we want,” forward Myles Sansted said. “Penalty kicks are going to hurt us, but we had our chances to score tonight. We will keep working on building our chemistry, so we don’t have to leave it up to that.”
The Cardinals started the game with an aggressive game plan offensively. During the first 16 minutes, they dominated the pace of play while creating high-quality scoring chances.
While Sauk Rapids-Rice’s goalkeeper stood tall, Alexandria was finally able to beat him with 23 minutes left in the first half. Sansted put home a crossing pass right in front of the Storm goal.
From there, Sauk Rapids-Rice started gaining more chances until a costly mistake tied the game in the 21st minute. A Storm forward was tripped in the goal box, leading to his penalty-kick game-tying goal.
“We had kind of a side check in the middle, and we understand that,” Johnson said. “But what they missed was the first couple of pushes, clicks and hip checks. It’s unfortunate they only called the last one that was inside the box. I think if the assistant referees stepped up and added their input it was pretty clear it wasn’t a foul.”
Sansted was all over the place offensively. He nearly regained the lead multiple times with chances early in the second half, but the Storm goalkeeper was up to the task. Alexandria had multiple grade-A chances in front of the Sauk Rapids-Rice goal but was stymied each time.
“It’s all just the mental side,” Sansted said. “I know where to be, and I think we are getting more patient as a team. We aren’t just trying to attack the goal. We are trying to build up the ball through the midfield and move laterally. With keepers like the one we saw tonight, we aren’t going to score on shots straight on. We score with tap-ins across, so that’s where I’m trying to be.”
Jaegar Steele had one of the better chances of the night for the Cardinals late in the second half. With seven minutes remaining, he ripped a shot from about 15 yards out that the Sauk Rapids-Rice goalkeeper barely got a hand on. The ball grazed the top of the crossbar before going out of play.
“I mean, what are we supposed to do? How much closer could we get?” Johnson said with a laugh. “Hats off to their keeper because he made five or six saves that keepers don’t make at this level. He was so impressive tonight.”
While Alexandria struggled to find the back of the net for a second time, Sauk Rapids-Rice was in the same boat. Alexandria goalkeeper Ryan Meuwissen was asked to make several big saves on top of his defense taking away rushes down the field.
“We started to get tired as the game went on, and it showed,” Johnson said. “We have been spending the last couple of practices moving off the ball and trying to make sure we are in position. Moving off the ball was a critical component in the first half, but the guys got a little bit tired, and we gave up some chances.”
Alexandria has a couple of tough opponents up next, starting with St. Cloud Tech on Tuesday. Sansted knows that the Cardinals are going to have to bury their chances next time to have a chance to win.
“They’re a very good team with a lot of high-quality athletes,” Sansted said. “They have Ethan Miller, who scored five goals in the second half once. He’s a great player that we are going to have to keep an eye on. I think if we can keep him in check and keep playing the way we are, it’ll be a good night."