A team doesn't have to be narrow-minded to play on a narrow field.
Once the Service boys soccer team figured that out, the Cougars cruised to a 5-0 victory over Kenai Central in the opening round of the state soccer tournament Thursday at Colony High School.
Service moves on to face Juneau-Douglas in a semifinal today at 4 p.m. at Wasilla High School. The Kardinals fall into the fourth-place bracket, where they will face East today at noon at Colony.
Both Colony and Wasilla are using their football fields for the state soccer tournaments. While the fields offer quality grass, especially for this time of the year in Alaska, football fields are considerably narrower than an ideal soccer pitch.
Thursday, it took Service some time to adjust to this.
"We weren't used to playing on such a narrow field," said Service boys coach Dan Rufner. "For a while, we just kept trying to jam the ball up the middle.
"In the second half, we started playing better soccer because we were working the ball on the outside."
Rufner also said it took his team awhile to figure out Kenai's strengths, and then figure out a way to work around those strengths.
"We expected an easier game," Rufner said. "Kenai had some very good players. Their team showed us more than what we expected."
Service struck first 25 minutes into the game. Matt Carpenter played a perfect through ball to Mike Butterworth. Butterworth, in full sprint, deftly touched the ball just inside the goal post past Kenai keeper Eric Nyce.
Three minutes later, Service's Mickey Kenney drew a penalty kick, then converted the fruit of his labor for a 2-0 lead.
The Kardinals had a chance to cut the lead to 2-1 with three minutes left in the first half. With the Service goalie on his knees and scrambling, Kenai's Zack Hicks couldn't get his foot on a bouncing ball just outside the goalie box. The ball ended up at the feet of Carlos Carreon, but he put it over the crossbar.
"With all of our forwards injured, we just didn't play with the confidence we normally have," said Kenai coach David Landry. "That's not to take anything away from Service. They are a very skilled side."
Kenai was without forward Adrian Borchgrevink due to a knee injury. Forwards Micah Lillard and Nick Barnes tried to play with bad feet, but both were noticeably slower than usual. Finally, J.D. Pault saw limited time due to a sprained ankle that has kept him sidelined for most of the season.
"We had some good moments, but we were kind of in panic mode the whole game," said Kenai sweeper Wally Ward. "Being in panic mode can be good for a few minutes, but you're not going to win the game if you're in panic mode the whole time."
Both Ward and Landry agreed Service was the more skilled team.
"We could run with them speed-wise," Ward said. "They were just so good skill-wise. They really know how to push the pace of the game."
That pace resulted in three second-half goals, all off corner kicks:
n In the 56th minute, Service's Daniel Wilkins played a corner kick to the top of the goalie box. After a protracted struggle, Carpenter placed the ball in the net.
n In the 59th minute, Service's Jason Richards drilled a corner kick into the box. Wilkins met the ball soundly with his head and sent it crashing into the back of the net.
n In the 70th minute, Wilkins sent a corner kick into the box and Nathan Seymour corralled it before beating Nyce.
"Our goalie did a good job," Landry said. "To his credit, it could have been a lot worse.
"Our guys haven't allowed this many goals in awhile. This is a tough loss for them. But they're resilient. They'll be ready for tomorrow."
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