Eagan rally shocks Eagles

Apple Valley suffers first boys soccer loss

Apple Valley’s Devon Veldhouse (left) and Eagan’s Edward Olson go after the ball during a South Suburban Conference boys soccer game Tuesday night. Eagan scored twice in the final 7:50 to win 2-1. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

Eagan wouldn’t follow the script, the one that says everybody can get ready to go home when Apple Valley has a lead late in the second half.

Over the years, the Eagles have been good at putting boys soccer opponents on lockdown once they get a lead. Tuesday night, however, Eagan scored twice in the final 7:50 to beat No. 1-ranked Apple Valley 2-1 at Johnny Cake Ridge Park.

At the end of a scoreless first half, Eagan coach Alan Merrick said he told his team, “I’ve got to see some character in the second half.”

When Apple Valley’s Mitchell Dawson scored with 21:40 remaining, Eagan’s situation started looking desperate. The Wildcats’ Kyle Stefani scored to tie the game, then with 2:58 remaining junior midfielder Ryan Mott converted off a corner kick.

“It’s a tremendous win,” Merrick said. “We’re playing against Apple Valley, the No. 1 team, and we’re coming in as an underdog. But that might have been an advantage for us.”

Not only did Apple Valley (11-1-3 overall) lose for the first time in 15 games, the loss might have cost the Eagles a chance to win the South Suburban Conference. The final round of conference games was played Thursday (after this edition of Sun Thisweek went to press). The Eagles needed a victory over Lakeville South, an Eastview loss and an Eagan loss or tie in order to share the title.

“I don’t know what to say; it’s really disappointing,” Apple Valley coach Chuck Scanlon said. “I thought we controlled most of the game. Our guys played extremely hard.”

Eagan improved to 6-1-1 in the conference and 9-4-2 overall. The Wildcats trailed defending South Suburban champion Eastview (6-0-2) in the league standings.

The victory over Apple Valley is a highlight in an Eagan season that has had ups and downs. The Wildcats lost to Owatonna for the first time ever and were beaten convincingly by Bloomington Jefferson in a conference game Sept. 18. On Sept. 25, they were routed 6-0 by a deep Blaine team that sent waves of fresh players at them.

But that matters little to them now as they get ready to make a playoff push.

“When we started the week we told the players we have two games to take what we’ve learned and show we can play well in the section (tournament),” Merrick said.

Although Tuesday’s victory was the Wildcats’ best effort of the season, “we still weren’t consistent,” Merrick said. “There were too many times when we just gave the ball away.”

Merrick said the players’ goal was to make quick, pinpoint passes to relieve pressure in their end of the field. Sometimes it worked, leaving Apple Valley “chasing shadows,” as Merrick called it. And sometimes “we just kicked it right back to them and they kept the pressure on us,” the coach said.

“We respect what Apple Valley’s done,” Merrick added. “We knew they would try to get the ball to that front-runner and try to keep us pinned in the final third. Their workrate was impressive, but it was a very good last five minutes for us.”

Scanlon said Apple Valley continued to be plagued by a problem that has lingered all season – finishing the opportunities the Eagles create. Kyle Levac and Christian Smith had scoring opportunities in the final minutes that just missed the far goalpost.

“We had three or four good chances up front that we didn’t convert,” Scanlon said. “Then we had two breakdowns on defense that cost us.”

Section 3AA pairings had not been announced when this edition went to press, although it is likely Apple Valley and Eagan will play at home in quarterfinal games next week. Also in the section are Eastview, Burnsville, Rosemount, Henry Sibley, Park of Cottage Grove and Hastings. Eastview is defending section champion.