Any winner-take-all soccer match has its share of dramatic moments, but Thursday’s District A-5 boys title game rewarded those who braved the cool temperatures with a few bonus thrills.
Millard West edged Omaha Westside 3-2 in a shootout to earn a berth in next week’s Class A state tournament. How the Wildcats and Warriors got to that point was an entertaining journey for the estimated crowd of 150 at Westside’s Phelps Field.
There was a goal less than two minutes into the match, a penalty kick that bounced off a post, another one that went in, a coach ejected between overtime periods and a shootout that kept one of the state’s best teams out of the state tournament.
“We’ll take it,” Millard West coach Ron Beernink said. “It wasn’t our sharpest performance, but we hung around long enough to win. I kind of expected this with Westside.”
It was the 14-5 Wildcats who scored first. Sophomore forward Daniel Zapata knocked in a rebound of a missed shot with his head just 90 seconds into the match, and Westside responded by scoring at 20:27 on a scrum in front of the Wildcats’ goal on a shot by junior defenseman Joe Dahir.
Zapata put Millard West back in the lead less than 10 minutes into the second half on a breakaway goal at 49:27, outrunning a Warriors defender to get to the ball.
That goal came just over four minutes after a penalty kick attempt by junior midfielder Landon Sibole clanked off the right upright and harmlessly rolled away. It was Zapata who drew the penalty after being knocked down on another rush to the goal.
“I was really happy with that early goal into the wind,” Beernink said. “Dan has really come on strong for us as of late. For us today I thought he was one of the best players out there.”
A penalty kick by senior forward Ali Sodal less than five minutes later got 13-4 Westside even at 2-2 and got fans from both teams stirred up.
Neither team scored in the final 25 minutes to force the two 10-minute overtime periods. In the final minute of the first OT, an apparent goal by Westside was waived off because the Warriors were ruled to be offside.
During the break between the two extra periods Westside coach John Brian protested and eventually was given a red card and the ensuing ejection. Brian questioned both the call and getting tossed, which forced him to watch the rest of the match from outside the stadium.
“They said it was offside but nobody touched the ball until it was in the back of the net,” Brian said. “I just told the official in my little New Zealand accent that he made a wrong call that cost us a goal.
“He must have thought I dropped an f-bomb, but I’m 50 and I’ve been playing this game for 44 years, and I know not to ever drop an f-bomb. I still have respect for the officials and would never do that.”
When neither team scored in the second overtime, the match and accompanying state tournament berth came down to a shootout. Sibole, Nathan Pigsley and Bryce Hartley all scored for Millard West while three of Westside’s five attempts were either blocked or bounced off the crossbar.
The final block of a Warrior shot started a celebration by everyone on the Millard West bench except for Beernink, who instead took a deep breath.
“I’m proud of that,” Beernink said. “That’s one of the things we shoot for every year, but it gets harder and harder each year to get to state because there are a lot more quality soccer teams out there these days.”
Millard West (14-5) ........................... 1 1 0 0 1—3
At Omaha Westside (13-4) ........................... 1 1 0 0 0—2
Goals: 1, MW, Daniel Zapata, 1:30. 2, OW, Joe Dahir, 20:27. 3, MW, Zapata, 49:27. 4, OW, Ali Sodal, 54:22 (penalty kick).
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