Stegman’s Old Boys went into last Tuesday’s match atop the table, and ready to see out the first half of the 2017 campaign against their toughest competition yet, Lions F.C.
The core of the team has and will continue to be the midfield cast of Jake Foley, Cole Erickson and Jordan Humble, with occasional cameos by the ancient and cagey Jon Bisswurm.
Foley is the Ronnie Lott of MASL Division III, a muscular, ball-hawking midfielder who wins possession and drives forward repeatedly, battering the opposition’s midfield into submission. Erickson and Humble are also known to put in a week’s worth of work in 90 minutes, and they are the ones pulling the strings -- swinging the ball wide or combining quickly through the middle. Of the three, Erickson is the biggest threat to score, scoring four goals in 10 appearances, a rate of net-finding that USMNT strikers Jordan Morris and Bobby Wood can only dream about.
The Old Boys back line is just that, a rotating cast of aging and mostly reliable defenders. Patrick Godfrey on the left is yet to be beaten one on one, but loves to roll the dice with the ball at his feet. Buck (Mike) Williamson is a solid and versatile utility defender who saved his howler for the Wilson Cup. NAIA National Champion Nick Hinds is a specimen who brings a splash of quality and pace to the side when he descends to the middle of the amateur ranks. Greg Larkin, Dustin Branan and Mark Schmitt are reliable center backs, all of them good in the air, tough in the tackle and solid in their decision-making. Larkin and Branan, in particular, bring a much-needed calm and maturity in possession. Adam Belz at right back offers quality in possession and blistering runs up the wing, all while squawking to ensure the rest of the team is at the top of their game.
All this adds up to a defense that is never outmatched -- giving up an average of 1 goal per game -- but has struggled to lock down opponents. The SOBs have posted only one clean sheet in 10 division matches, and that against a side with only nine players. Tyler Robitschek, the regular goalkeeper, covers a multitude of these sins. A shot-stopping specialist, he denies all but the simplest of chances for the opposition. Back-up keeper Dan “The Godfather” Hoedeman has turned in a couple man-of-the-match performances in goal when not showing his physical dominance as a bruising forward.
Fortunately the Old Boys score goals, thanks in large part to bruising target forward Kai Hanson, who was acquired in the winter transfer window, and Peter Bell, the dignified Scotsman who is the chance-creating engine for the team. Through the middle of the season, the two players have scored 20 of the team’s 36 goals in all competitions. Hanson makes a meal of possession every other time he touches the ball. The other half of the time, he either scores or nearly does. His pace and strength have been nearly impossible for opposing center backs to handle, and he is a finisher, with a hammer of a right boot and a no-nonsense approach to goal-scoring opportunities. He leads the team with 12 goals and has earned the brass at Stegman’s plaudits for their offseason savvy in picking him up on a free transfer.
Bell is the most technical player on the team -- a clever passer and dribbler who’s tougher in the tackle and on the ball then his willowy frame would indicate. He’s also an excellent finisher, whether by air or land. He has scored 8 goals and assisted on four in 11 appearances.
Dan Warner, the team’s skipper who is wise beyond his tender years, has scored four goals and assisted on one in only eight appearances. He offers a slight change of pace from Hanson. A bit more link-up, quite a bit less physicality.
As for wingers, the veteran and pacy Chris Cruz continues to lure opposing fullbacks to sleep before racing past them into open space on the flank. He’s tallied two assists and a goal, and regularly gets to the byline. Jared Johnson, another pacy winger, has tallied three assists in only seven appearances, and his work in possession, darting in from the wing across the field, has bought his teammates time to get their shape on countless occasions. Both are an ever-present danger, and they’ve been joined by tricky youngster Brendan Gefre and Jeff Disbrow, two worthy mid-season acquisitions.
The only game in which the Old Boys were outmatched was the away contest against We Never Warm Up, a squad of sneering children with a first class target forward. A short-handed Stegman’s squad was thoroughly outplayed, and only escaped the desolate confines of Maple Grove with a draw thanks to the youthful fundamentalists’ profligacy in front of net. (The two sides drew again at the Wilson Cup less than a week later in a much different match the Old Boy’s deserved to win.)
So it was with confidence, but wariness, that the Old Boys lined up at Lincoln Ground last Tuesday for a match they rightly expected to be their toughest of the season so far -- a contest against second-place Lions F.C., a clever, physical side with a savvy if slow-footed back line and a dangerous playmaking No. 10.
Stegman’s were the better side from the get-go, and yielded no chances until a speculative shot from distance dipped past 5th string keeper Brett Ladoux. The game evened out in the second half, with neither side running rampant, until Hanson collected a throw-in in the right corner and sent a cross drifting over the mixer. Erickson collided with a defender near the marker, and the ball fell kindly to Bell, who settled quickly and made no mistake from point blank range, beating the keeper near post.
The winner came deep in the second half, when Gefre slalomed up the left flank and won a penalty kick just inside the box. Bell stepped to the mark and spanked it into the left side netting. A chippy last few minutes ensued, with the Lions feeling hard done thanks to the penalty. Truthfully they rarely threatened on the day and were lucky to have scored the once.
With a division record of 9-0-1, Old Boys head into the second half of the season with a rematch versus the Lions in Vadnais Heights on July 9th. Promotion to Division 2 is, it’s now clear, theirs to lose.