With league play looming ahead, the Lions play one of their best games of the season
Let’s be honest.
The West Linn boys soccer team’s 2021 season was a once-in-a-lifetime event.
The Lions battled to a Three Rivers League title, rolled into the Class 6A state playoffs as the sixth seed, upset the third- and second-seeded teams there, and West Linn won a berth in the state championship game for the first time in school history.
But the 2022 version of the Lions is a new thing. After graduating 20 seniors last spring, West Linn brought back just five varsity returners and basically started from scratch.
Now, however, the youthful Lions may be getting their feet under them.
West Linn played one of its best games of the season on Tuesday, Sept. 27, shutting out Cleveland 3-0 at West Linn High School and giving the Lions hope that they’ll be ready for TRL play next week.
“We’ve become way more cohesive as a team,” said senior midfielder/forward Ajani White, who assisted on his team’s second goal. “Everyone knows how each other plays and I just feel like we’ve gotten better as a team altogether.”
“At the beginning of the year … we just weren’t gelling as a team,” said junior defender/midfielder Gabe Valdes, who scored twice on Tuesday. “We had a bit of nerves trying to follow up last year, that legacy that we left, so going into this season, we had a lot of big shoes to fill, but that confidence is building each and every game — and the goals are helping.”
While the Lions’ offense stepped up Tuesday, the team’s defense was solid too, shutting out the Warriors and limiting Cleveland to just six shots on goal.
“I thought we had a good game overall,” said West Linn senior goalkeeper Aidan Ferreiro-Bartko. “I had to come up with some saves today, but our defense has improved a lot, especially from the start of the season. They really held it down at the back and we got a big win here.”
With the win, West Linn’s second straight and third in is last five games, the Lions improved to 3-4-1 overall. Cleveland, meanwhile, saw its one-game winning streak snapped and fell to 2-4-1 overall. Next up, the Lions complete their non-league schedule when they play at Clackamas at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29.
The Lions stomped on the accelerator right from the start of Tuesday’s game, scoring twice in the night’s first 6 minutes, 41 seconds to knock the Warriors back on their heels. Valdes kicked off the festivities when he collected a rebound 13 yards out of the Cleveland goal, then sent a hard, low shot to the right side of the Warrior net for a 1-0 lead just 5:28 into the contest.
With Cleveland already reeling from the Lions’ first goal, West Linn broke through to score again just 1:13 later to make it 2-0. White started the scoring play by sending a corner kick into the Warriors’ penalty box from the left side where sophomore Mason Bradley ran onto the ball at the far post and headed it home for a two-goal lead that stunned Cleveland.
“We’ve struggled scoring goals this season,” Valdes said, referring to the fact that the Lions have been shut out four times this year. “So the first 10 or 15 minutes of the game — finding that momentum, scoring early on — really helped us today. We just knocked them back a little bit, took control early on and that helped us finish off the game.”
While the Warriors didn’t score on Tuesday, they had a couple stellar chances after Bradley’s goal. In the 12th minute, Cleveland senior midfielder Elijah Edelman hit a 25-yard free kick that forced a tough stop by Ferreiro-Bartko, and a minute later, Edelman hit another long free kick that ricocheted off the crossbar and away.
Still trailing 2-0 at the half, Cleveland tried to rally at the beginning of the second period. The Warriors started with an Edelman corner kick from the right side nine minutes into the half; junior Solomon Barnett turned that kick into a header, but Ferreiro-Bartko dove to stop the shot and preserve the shutout.
West Linn boosted its lead to 3-0 with 23:35 left in the game when Valdes controlled a throw-in from the left side of the field, tapped it toward the middle and beat Cleveland freshman keeper Derek Puppo to the near post with a left-footed shot.
“I think one of our biggest challenges has just been scoring goals and finishing our chances,” Ferreiro-Bartko said. “Today, we really did that well with the help of Gabe.”
The Warriors had the better of the possession and shots down the stretch, including three shots on goal and three corner kicks in the final 19 minutes, but failed to score and the Lions walked off with their 3-0 victory.
After the game, the Lions said they were continuing to learn, grow and improve.
“To be honest, you’ve just got to trust our teammates,” White said. “You’ve got to be able to put the ball on the ground and play rather than everyone trying to do it themselves.
“I think as a team with a lot of younger players, we’ve had trouble with that because we don’t really know each other that well. But throughout the season, being able to trust your teammate to do the right thing, I think we’ve done a lot better with that.”
You can see the complete slideshow from this game by clicking here.