The Soldotna High School soccer teams earned a split decision with Homer Tuesday at Soldotna.
The Homer girls were able to take advantage of the stiff breeze at their backs in the first half of their match with the Stars, keeping the ball pinned in the Soldotna end. The constant pressure led to a Homer goal as the Mariners posted a 2-0 Region III win.
The Soldotna boys played into the wind through the first half of their match against Homer, but the Stars were able to slip between Homer defenders with balls played through the Mariners back line on the ground. The breakaways led to three first-half goals as the Stars notched a 7-2 win -- their first victory over the Mariners in four seasons of varsity soccer on the peninsula.
"We played well," said Soldotna boys coach John Bramante. "It's nice. Homer has been the team to beat on the peninsula for so long. It's nice to finally get them, and it's good for us to keep our momentum up."
The Stars and the Mariners traded chances through the first 20 minutes of play, but Soldotna's Ben Histand figured out Homer's offsides trap in the 21st minute. Histand started his run at midfield and ran on to a ball played through the Homer defense. Histand had a one-on-one with the Mariners' goalkeeper, Aaron Smith, and used a deft touch to put the ball in the back of the net.
Soldotna's Lucas Petersen gave the Stars a 2-0 lead just a minute later, finishing off another breakaway after Edgar Ruiz knocked the ball loose just outside the Homer penalty area.
The Mariners got on the board at the 30-minute mark when David Bayes scored on a direct kick from 30 yards out. Bayes' shot dipped just under the crossbar and out of the reach of Soldotna keeper Houston Morris.
Mike McIntosh restored Soldotna's two-goal lead with two minutes to play in the half. McIntosh settled a ball off his chest at midfield, pushed it ahead between two Homer defenders, then out-sprinted them to create another Soldotna breakaway. McIntosh had an easy touch for a goal.
"They were pressing," said Soldotna midfielder Anthony Murray of the Mariners' strategy to push players forward. "We just got some through balls to run on to. They let us have three goals that way. That's one of the reasons we play a diamond on defense, where you always have that sweeper back there."
Soldotna continued to create chances in the second half, scoring nine minutes in when Joshua Gemmell, with the wind at his back, played a goal kick that carried over the Homer defense. Petersen was waiting for the ball to come down and had a one-touch shot for a goal.
Soldotna's Chris Houglum scored two minutes later, waiting patiently at the edge of the penalty area. Murray knocked the ball toward him out of a scrum in front of the goal, and the unmarked forward was able to place the ball to the upper corner of the far post.
Peter Kim received another Soldotna through-pass at the 15-minute mark of the second half, turned the ball while shielding it from a Homer defender and tucked the ball into the back of the net, and Jason Dunagin scored the final Soldotna goal 17 minutes into the second half, charging forward to finish off a ball crossed into the penalty area.
The Mariners' Mert Anameric scored the final goal of the match, knocking in a ball that had been booted around the Stars' penalty area with 15 minutes left in the match.
Homer coach Ed Kelly said it wasn't the same Mariners team he's used to seeing out on the pitch.
"We had a lot of distractions today," Kelly said. "We lost a heartbreaker to Palmer Friday, and these guys are still deflated from that."
The road doesn't get any easier for the 3-2 Mariners, who host Wasilla Thursday and Houston Friday before returning to the central peninsula to face Kenai Saturday.
The Soldotna boys, now 4-1, also have a make-or-break part of their schedule coming up. The Stars host Palmer Friday and Wasilla Saturday.
Fianna Condon scored for the Homer girls in the first half of their match at Soldotna, taking advantage of the stiff breeze blowing into the Soldotna end of the field.
"The wind and the environment was challenging," said Homer coach Mickey Todd. "We were fortunate to score one in the first half. We didn't have many opportunities in the second half."
Condon netted her goal from left side of the penalty area, bending her shot just inside the far post.
Soldotna was able to put some pressure on the Homer goal in the second half with the wind at its back, but Mariners keeper Alex Drathman made several solid saves to keep her sheet clean.
"In the second half, we did have some good chances," said Soldotna midfielder Jennifer Senette. "We just need to work on finishing. In all of our games, we've had good shots, but we didn't finish them off. That's what we need to work on."
Homer's second goal came when the Stars misplayed a Mariners corner kick, resulting in an own-goal.
"I think we burned ourselves out defending against the wind," said Soldotna coach Katie Tongue. "We had some decent opportunities, we just have to work on finding the net."
Ricki Jackson played another stellar game at sweeper for the Stars, nipping several breakaway opportunities in the bud, and Senette and Erin Wolfe worked well in the midfield with wing players Sam Penner and Annie Penner.
The Stars, 1-3-1, are hoping to be among the eight teams to qualify for the Region III tournament and would like to get back on the winning track Friday and Saturday against Palmer and Wasilla.
Homer, now 4-0-1, has a day to rest before a three-game stretch against Wasilla, Houston and Kenai.
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