Wednesday’s 1A Boys Soccer: United Gets Hot in Second Half to Burn by Bush

United’s Brandon Cruz (11) kicks in the winning goal after Gustavo Barragan (7) was tackled to the ground by the goalie Wednesday afternoon in Winlock.

Stayin’ Alive: Contreras Makes 18 Saves to Keep Toledo-Winlock Kicking in State Tournament

By Jordan Nailon

jnailon@chronline.com

WINLOCK — It wasn’t the typical soccer match that United fans have grown accustomed to over the years. Pass, pass, pass. Pass again. Score. Repeat.

This time around the show was disheartening at first, and then gut wrenching around the middle, with a big fat payoff at the end as the team from Toledo and Winlock mounted a second half comeback to defeat Bush 4-3 in the 1A State boys soccer tournament.

United fell behind 2-0 early against a fast and well-orchestrated Blazers team. Claudio Vaughn scored the first goal for Bush in the fourth minute and Noah Cape added a score from point blank range in the 18th minute to hammer home the unsettling notion that United had their hands full.

In the midst of an undefeated season and fresh off a 7-0 drubbing of Forks in their district title tilt, the two goal deficit left the United players and fans a bit bewildered. Spectators started grumbling. Players started looking around to figure out what exactly was going on.

Even after Gustavo Barragan cut the margin in half with a quick-foot goal in the 30th minute the mood only lifted slightly. That was partly because Bush spent the next 10 minutes launching shots at the United goal, missing by the approximate width of an ant’s eyelash on at least one occasion.

When the home team walked into the locker room beneath the grandstand at halftime only a smattering of forced encouragement fell upon their ears. The locals were nervous, but the team’s head honcho was there to help find focus in the mist of uncertainty that fell from the sky and followed them in from the field.

“I think they were upset. I’m not going to lie, I was upset too, but I knew the only thing to do with any team is you’ve got to understand that you’ve got a whole other half and if you dwell on the mistakes of the first half and throw a pity party, it’s not going to help you,” explained United coach Horst Malunat. He thought it might have been the first time all season his team trailed at the half.

Malunat said he tried to remind his team to play their style of soccer and pointed out a few things they could tighten up defensively in hopes of making a comeback and keeping their season alive.

At first it looked like everything was going great for United. Then, six minutes into the second half Bush seized on a misguided attempt to advance the ball by United’s defense and set up Cape for a header from about 10 feet out to extend the Blazers lead.

“I did my best to get the guys motivated and I think they did. We got back in the game and we battled, and then we got down 3-1. We made a mistake,” conceded Malunat. “But I always tell them when you make a mistake I don’t care about the mistake, I care that you work hard after the mistake.”

Over the next 34 minutes it became apparent that the United players have learned well that lesson in resilience from their coach.

In the 59th minute Gustavo Barragan rose to the occasion, quite literally, when he emerged from a scrum near the net to punch in his second score of the night on an assist from Andreas Malunat.

More importantly, the score seemed to help United and the Toledo-Winlock faithful shake off the pervasive funk in the air. After that, more of the bounces seemed to begin to break in the home team’s favor.

In the 65th minute Isaac Garibay was the fortunate one who guided home a pass from Tima Kozuvakov past the outstretched mitts of the Bush goalie who’d already flung himself to the turf in order to stop a previous shot.

Those consecutive attempts represented one-third of the on target offerings by United all night. Still, it was at that point that Horst Malunat says he saw the dynamic on the field change dramatically.

“When we tied it up I think they started making mistakes and they started bickering with each other and I could see that what they were doing was starting to unravel,” Malunat said. “Once we tied it up it was like they melted down and it happened real fast.”

To wit — Just two minutes after Garibay punched in the game tying goal, Brandon Cruz interjected himself into the narrative by launching a screaming mimi just inside the far post that began as a direct kick cross by Andreas Malunat.

With a 4-3 advantage in hand and just over a dozen minutes left to play in regulation the United defense was subject to a series of frenetic advances by Bush. That’s when goalkeeper Alan Contreras took over in order to preserve the big win.

“I was just excited, like, I’ve got to go hard to every ball now and I just can’t make any mistakes. Our defense has got to be ready for anything that’s coming. That motivation kept motivating my teammates to do better on defense and just not give up,” explained Contreras. “Without their help, it wouldn’t have happened.

Sporting his customary hot pink goalie shirt Contreras was throwing his body around in the box all night. Launching deep keeper kicks back into enemy territory. Playing cat and mouse with the frantic opposing offense in order to milk more time off the clock. And most importantly, staving off every shot in a last ditch attempt by Bush that seemed to stretch the limits of stoppage time. Coach Malunat called his keeper’s 18 save effort on the night, “Tremendous.”

United will host their next playoff game in Winlock. The most likely scenario would pit them against Kings at 1 p.m. on Saturday, pending final approval by the WIAA.

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