By Ossie Bladine • Editor • 

Grizzlies come up short in ‘game of inches’

Rusty Rae/News-Register##Seniors Rodolfo Figueroa of McMinnville Parker Sanderson of Lincoln chase a 50-50 ball near midfield during the game Wednesday.
Rusty Rae/News-Register##Seniors Rodolfo Figueroa of McMinnville Parker Sanderson of Lincoln chase a 50-50 ball near midfield during the game Wednesday.
Rusty Rae/News-Register##Lincoln goalie Alexander Rhodes leaps backward and barely saves a head shot attempt by McMinnville’s Giovanni Grimaldo in the second half, nearly the third equalizer of the game for the Grizzlies.
Rusty Rae/News-Register##Lincoln goalie Alexander Rhodes leaps backward and barely saves a head shot attempt by McMinnville’s Giovanni Grimaldo in the second half, nearly the third equalizer of the game for the Grizzlies.
Rusty Rae/News-Register##After beating the Lincoln goalkeeper to the ball, Mac freshman Jose Farias takes a strike at an empty net that would tie the game 2-2 in the second half of the game. It was Farias’ fifth goal in three games this season.
Rusty Rae/News-Register##After beating the Lincoln goalkeeper to the ball, Mac freshman Jose Farias takes a strike at an empty net that would tie the game 2-2 in the second half of the game. It was Farias’ fifth goal in three games this season.
Rusty Rae/News-Register##Senior Rodolfo Figueroa celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal off a Jose Farias assist in the first half to tie the game 1-1 against Lincoln.
Rusty Rae/News-Register##Senior Rodolfo Figueroa celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal off a Jose Farias assist in the first half to tie the game 1-1 against Lincoln.

The McMinnville boys soccer players and coaches walked out of Wortman Stadium Wednesday night with their first loss of the season, but their heads high.
Mac’s (2-1) non-league action against Lincoln (3-0), ranked No. 2 in the state, was evenly matched throughout, but ultimately the Cardinals came away with a 3-2 victory.

“I felt like they capitalized on their opportunities,” said head coach Adam Howard. “There weren’t a ton of chances either way. When they had a couple of those opportunities, they put it in the back of the net and made us pay for them.”

The Grizzlies’ chances of winning would have been much higher had it not been for the tallest guy on the field: Lincoln’s Gunder Miller, who scored twice and created the opportunity leading to the third Cardinal goal with another rocket shot.

“We’re not going to see many players like him,” Howard said. “He’s an academy kid. We knew he was going to be dangerous, and they moved him around in some different spots.”

Miller struck early as Lincoln pressured Mac’s experienced backline in the opening minutes. His shot from about 30 yards went through the outstretched hand of Mac goalie Kaleb Devore to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.

But it didn’t take long for the Grizzlies to answer.

A few minutes later, Mac midfielder Alexis Llamas collected a long cross from midfield to the top of the penalty box, and sent a touch pass toward the endline to a cutting Jose Farias. Lincoln goalkeeper Alexander Rhodes came out to challenge the Grizzly freshman. But Farias enjoyed the better of the matchup as he reached the ball first, took a dribble around the goalie and sent a low cross to the middle, where senior Rodolfo Figueroa kicked in the tying goal.

From there, McMinnville controlled the ball much of the first half, but was unable to turn possession into many scoring opportunities.

“That’s the challenge that we face,” Howard said. “I think we’re starting to figure each other out, our movements on and off the ball. I think that’s just something that takes time over the course of the season, and we’re getting better at that. … We just have to be able to be a little more dangerous more often.”

With two minutes left in the half, Miller collected the ball off a throw-in, turned, and sent another strong shot past a diving Devore to put Lincoln back on top 2-1.

Mac nearly tied it again in the waning seconds of the first, but a corner kick by Giovanni Grimaldo sailed just over the head of a leaping Farias.

Howard said he told the team at half there was no need to panic and to just keep doing what they were doing.

“We felt like we did a lot of good things,” the coach said. “It felt like we had been dangerous enough to create a few more chances and just needed to capitalize on one of those.”

Figueroa felt the Grizzlies, who outscored their first two opponents 8-0, responded well to the early deficits.

“Soccer’s a rollercoaster with a lot of ups and downs,” Figueroa said. “It’s about how you deal with adversity, what team deals with it better. I think we did pretty well. We held each other accountable.”

Lincoln again came out the gates pressuring in the second, but Mac quickly responded and pushed the ball back into Lincoln territory. From the top of the penalty box, Llamas sent a chip pass toward the side of the goal that led to another confrontation between Farias and the Cardinal goalie, and again Farias won the 50-50 ball and sent it to the back of the net for the game’s second tie.

“We told each other to keep our heads up, there’s still a ton of time in the game and we got that second goal early in the second half and we fought,” Figueroa said

The senior’s vocal encouragement could be heard throughout the stadium as Mac sought a go-ahead goal.

“(Rodolfo) comes with a lot of soccer experience and he’s played at a high level, so we rely on that to be able to lean on him to lead our group,” Howard said. “He’s done a really good job of being positive and supporting the guys and buying into what we’re doing.”

About 10 minutes after Mac’s second equalizer, Miller sent another hard shot from about 30 yards out toward the bottom right corner of the goal. Freshman goalie Hipolito Monje (who came in at halftime) made a diving block, but the ball deflected to the feet of Lincoln’s Lude Denton, who easily tapped the ball in the net to go up 3-2.
“Our focus was to find (Miller) and communicate and make sure we always had bodies around him,” Howard said. “He made a couple really good plays that they scored goals on. It happens. I think we’ll learn from it. I think this was a really good opportunity to see some things that we need to continue to work on.”
The Grizzlies still had fight in them despite facing a deficit for the third time.

In the 58th minute of the 80-minute matchup, Mac’s Alexis Gomez sent a throw-in from near the corner flag that was as good as a corner kick. Grimaldo headed the ball toward the top left corner, but Lincoln’s goalie made a fingertip save.

With nine minutes left, Figueroa shouted for his teammates to keep up the energy.

Of his on-field vocal leadership, the senior said: “It comes from the heart. … It’s the love I have for the game … Every match I go out, I step on the pitch and I just want to play like it’s my last game and I try to bring it on to my teammates. Hopefully they get where I’m coming from as well.”

Shortly after his encouragement to teammates, Figueroa drew three defenders toward him near the sideline in Lincoln territory and, using some nifty footwork, was able to get the ball to the feet of Farias at the top of the box. The freshman forward turned, took a touch, and sent an arching left-footed shot that sailed inches above the left corner of the crossbar.

“I think within the team we thought we had the chance to go out and win it,” Figueroa said. “But the game of soccer is the game of inches, they say. Any little thing can go your way and not your way. Unfortunately it was not on our side tonight.”

Figeruoa said the team has some minor things to improve on the field, but that Wednesday’s hard-fought game against the No. 2 ranked team in the state proved the Grizzlies can match up with any team in the state.

“I think it’s important just to keep our heads up after the game. We have a great squad, and I think we’re ready to compete with the highest level teams in Oregon,” he said. “We’re just going to head back to the training ground and improve on (some) things: Pick our heads up and be back next week. It’s a long season.”

The Grizzlies have two home games next week. They face West Salem (0-2) Tuesday and North Salem (0-2) Thursday. Both games start at 7 p.m. in Wortman Stadium.

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