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A tale of two halves - Oakmont, DO play to tie

Vikings score two in first, Eagles answer after break
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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The two halves of the contest could not have been more different Tuesday when the Oakmont High soccer team hosted Del Oro. The Vikings controlled play for most of the first 40 minutes only to see the pendulum swing to their opponents from Loomis after intermission. The end result was a 2-2 tie that leaves both teams still looking for their first Sierra Foothill League victory of the season. “I feel fortunate to come out with the tie after giving up the two soft goals in the first half,” said Del Oro coach Dave Shiro. “I think had we played both halves like the second, that we would have gotten the three points.” The Golden Eagles actually came out of the gate fast in the initial stanza, putting together some nice combinations and getting Oakmont back on its heels with an early burst. The result was several good scoring changes in the first 10 minutes, but nothing hit the net. Del Oro hit the post and found the goalkeeper, but could not get on the scoreboard. After the flurry of early activity, Oakmont settled down on defense and exerted some pressure forward. With the game being played primarily in the Del Oro half the rest of the first 40 minutes, the Del Oro defense struggled to keep the Vikings out of the scoring area. Oakmont striker Cole Alexander took full advantage, finishing off two chances with well-placed finishes. The first came 15 minutes into the match when Brett Alexander played a solid ball that split the Del Oro defenders leading to a one-on-one opportunity that Cole Alexander did not miss. With the lead at 1-0, Cole Alexander created his own chance in the 32nd minute, as he pressured the ball, created a turnover and then slipped home another tally as he stared down the Del Oro goalkeeper. After the 10-minute halftime break, the teams that returned bore little resemblance to those that walked off at intermission. Del Oro was now the aggressor, they cut out the defensive mistakes and took it to Oakmont’s defense straight on. “We had a quick heart-to-heart with the defenders about some of their lackadaisical practices in the back,” Shiro said. “We marked better, and tied our players together with some effort off of the ball.” Led by the efforts of defenders Grant Benedict, Paul Villa and Andrew Messamore, Del Oro turned up the level of play on the back line. The improved resistance also seemed to fuel a new energy in the midfield and up top, where the Golden Eagles took control of the contest. Just two minutes into the second stanza, Del Oro forward Kolby Mitnick pulled his team within one on a solo run and strong finish from a difficult angle. Mitnick beat the outside defender to the goal line and turned the corner to face Oakmont goalkeeper Brandon Vargas. With little room between the keeper and the near post, Mitnick slipped a shot into the narrow opening to provide Del Oro’s first goal of the game. “At half I told them to specifically keep No. 15 (Mitnick) in front of them because he was the only guy that could beat us one versus one with speed,” said Oakmont coach Mark Broers. “We didn't do that and didn't back him up. He should have gone to ground and tackled the man but took a bad angle and had his momentum used against him.” The second goal, just six minutes later, was the result of an almost identical run by Mitnick. He took the same angle, but this time sent the ball into the mix in front of the Oakmont goal, where a hand ball gave Del Oro a penalty kick. Midfielder Casey Meuser buried the freebie in the back of the net to level the match, and it would stay that way for the remainder of the game. Both teams had free kick chances late in the game that were just nudged over the top by the goalkeepers, but no one was able to get the go-ahead goal. The match featured a midfield battle intensified by familiarity. Meuser went at it hard with Oakmont playmaker Kody Duff time and time again. That duo plays together in the California Development Academy soccer program, along with Kellen Crow of Del Oro and Cole and Brett Alexander of Oakmont. Oakmont seemed to lose its focus on the things it had done well to build the initial advantage and the Vikings paid the price on the scoreboard. “We did not play the ball down the wings in the second half and persisted to try and dribble it down the middle instead of combining,” Broers said. “Another late rally came up short and I am challenging my team to execute what we have been practicing in the matches. That hasn't been happening.” With Rocklin and Granite Bay out quickly in league play, both of these teams have some work to do to get back in the mix for one of the three available playoff spots that will go to teams from the SFL. Oakmont (0-1-1 in the SFL), a section finalist a year ago, entered the season with lofty expectations, and will now be tested as it travels to Rocklin (2-1) at 3:30 p.m. Thursday for a match that is even bigger now than it would already have been. “The top three spots are up for grabs this year and we are going to have to play a lot better mentally if we want any chance of getting into one of those spots,” Broers said. “Right now I'd say we put ourselves in this spot more than anything else and the players have to make some fundamental changes.”