The Nelson Selects U18 boys finished third at the Bill Eisenwinter Hot Shot Tournament in Coeur d’Alene this month.
“I was absolutely delighted with the effort,” said coach Dan Szabo. “A few mistakes cost us, but I liked how we picked ourselves up after. Our confidence is high, we’re getting more chances at goal and that’s largely due to everyone knowing what their job is and how that impacts the play overall. We scored nine goals in three games.”
With only 12 players making the trip, Nelson was allowed to pick up three guest players from Missoula, including an exchange student from Brazil.
Game one Saturday morning saw Nelson defeat Polson, Montana 3-2. Nelson was flying off the opening whistle and pressing early. Johnny Johnson scored the opener four minutes in and Missoula guest player Cameron Ayers added another with more sustained pressure at 16 minutes.
Polson snuck in behind the defence to add one of their own six minutes later, and it was 2-1 Nelson at the half. In the second half, Nigel Ziegler hammered one home in the 42nd minute. Polson got their second goal in the 64th minute and applied pressure late but Nelson held on for the 3-2 win.
Game two went Saturday afternoon was a physical affair as the Idaho Thunder were seemingly trying an intimidation game against a Nelson Selects side that was equal to the task. Idaho got the opener three minutes in and that would be only goal of the first half. Ayers scored an early goal in the second half to even it up, only to have Idaho reply midway and late in the second to seal the victory at 3-1. Nelson unfortunately lost the services of centre back Theo Bakas in the match and for the rest of the tournament due to an undisclosed lower body injury.
Both Saturday games were held at Lake City high school in Coeur d’Alene which was also the site that day for the funeral of fallen Coeur d’Alene Sgt. Greg Moore who was killed in the line of duty earlier in the week. Moore, a father of two, was also a soccer coach with the local club. K27, his badge number, was painted on all the fields to honour him.
Game three took place Sunday morning in neighbouring Rathdrum, Idaho against Livingston, Montana and was a must-win for Nelson to move on to the final. After enduring some early pressing by Livingston the Selects came to life and played most of the half in the offensive end.
Jake Anderson got the opener at the 11th minute. Bryce Twible got tripped up in the 18-yard-box, then scored on a penalty kick in the closing seconds of the first half for a 2-0 Nelson lead at the break.
Nelson carried on in the second with Renan Paredes (Missoula guest player and Brazilian exchange student) blowing through the Livingston back field and scoring 45 seconds into the half putting his team up 3-0.
Then some bad luck. Nelson gave up three consecutive corner kicks in quick succession and that was one too many as Livingston finally converted. Two minutes later, at the 41-minute mark of the contest, some defensive miscommunication led to the second goal for the southern Montana team.
The Selects bounced back right away with Paredes getting his second of the match just seconds after that. Nigel Ziegler added an extra one in the final minute for a 5-2 victory.
Nelson then waited for the outcome of Idaho vs. Flathead, Montana to see if they would advance to the final. Although the team was tied for second in points, it dropped to third based on head-to-head play in the five-team division and failed to advance. But the team was happy to end with a 2-0-1 record. Flathead went on to win the division, 1-0 over Idaho in the final.
Darian Johnson was Nelson’s keeper throughout the tournament and was busiest in the match against Idaho, where he made some incredible saves in close to give his team a chance to win it.
“I’m really pleased with our midfielders Nolan DeRosa and Spencer Szabo especially in that final game,” Szabo said. “On the back line, Theo Bakas, Andrew Knapik, Lucas Spielman, Dylan Bennett and Owen Thurston kept it tight under pressure, then moved out quickly on the attack. Josh Venema from Missoula was a nice addition there too. Johnny Johnson was our utility guy. Played every position on the pitch I think except keeper. And he was even ready to do that if need be.”
Szabo added that their Missoula pick-ups were “a great addition both on and off the pitch. They fit right in and it was a good experience for all. Nice to make new friends.”