Story and photos by Kurt Johnson
AMERICAN FORK – Over the past couple of years, it’s become one of the best rivalries in Utah high school girls soccer. Lone Peak was at American Fork Thursday afternoon and you just knew it was going to be an intense battle.
After the Lady Cavemen grabbed the top spot in Region 4 with a 3-2 victory over Lone Peak the first time these teams met, the Knights were on the road looking for a measure of revenge. The contest came complete with vuvuzelas in the Lone Peak stands (the cause of a delay in the action during the second half) and engaged student cheering sections.
After American Fork tied the game in the 65th minute, the Knights found a way to pick up a much-needed victory, as they scored off an indirect free kick from just inside the 18 in the 75th minute to finish on top 2-1.
It was a match filled with momentum swings, particularly in the first half. The teams played it fairly even during the first 10 minutes, as the game went back and forth with each side finding success as the midfields battled for possession.
The second 10 of that opening half was thoroughly dominated by Lone Peak. The Knights pushed the ball forward hard, and whenever American Fork managed to find a way past midfield, defenders Lily Franks, Haylee McCune and Callie Burt sent it right back into the Caveman half.
During that stretch, TJ McKendrick, Natalee Wells and Siri Dahl asserted themselves in winning balls in the midfield and Lone Peak was very good at spacing and moving the ball.
Then, in the third 10-minute stretch of the initial half, things changed dramatically. Kassidy Dibb, Kelsey Cook and the American Fork midfield began to win more and more of those free balls and the Knights lost shape, exposing themselves with a holes the Cavemen jumped all over.
Sophie Stewart and Brooklyn Vogelsberg were able to work further and further forward and scoring chances began to come. Another issue for the Knights during that stretch was a series of fouls that gave American Fork a chance to set up set pieces.
Through all of the twists and turns, the game remained scoreless. Junior goalkeeper Savanna Empey of American Fork and her senior Lone Peak counterpart, Megan Running, had things under control in the back and got a lot of help from their defenses.
That was really the story of the entire match – great defense. Lone Peak’s hybrid formations put McKendrick in the middle of a lot of that defense, supporting Franks, McCune and company. On the other end, Lauren Jones, Ashlee McBride, Ally Carlisle and Brielle Stilson turned away the Knights over and over again.
Lone Peak striker Cameron Tucker had a hard time finding space in which to operate, and that was a key to keeping the match scoreless until late in the half. That was when McKendrick created a scoring change the Cavemen could not stop.
The senior delivered a diagonal ball across the field that split the American Fork defenders and arrived right at the foot of Wells, running full speed up the opposite side of the pitch. In a 1-v-1 with Empey, Wells touched the ball once to beat the keeper, and though Empey got a piece of the ball, she could not turn it away, which left Wells shooting at the empty net for the first goal of the game.
With the exception of a five-minute stretch that came midway through the second half, it was a high-intensity end line to end line battle between two talented and motivated soccer teams. The battles for possession in the midfield and the challenges by the defenders became more spirited.
In the 45th minute, the Cavemen had a great chance to level the match, but Stewart’s shot on frame was saved by the diving Running near the post.
In the 60th minute, Wells was taken down at the corner of the penalty area, but the referee ruled the initial contact occurred outside the box, saving the Cavemen from facing a penalty kick. American Fork survived that free kick with a leaping save from Empey, but not the one that followed 15 minutes later. That one was decisive.
About 25 minutes into the second half, the game was delayed about five minutes while the referred debated the merits of those vuvuzela horns in the hands of the student section.
The delay seemed to impact the Knights’ concentration, and within minutes, freshman Jamie Shepherd got a great look at the goal for American Fork, and her left-footed strike found the back of the net for the equalizer.
In the 75th minute, freshman forward Mary Clark ran onto a ball just inside the 18-yard box with Empey coming out and McBride working to earn possession. As Clark went down, the whistle sounded and it looked like a penalty kick would be the result.
Instead, the referee ruled that obstruction was the call. That made it an indirect kick from about 16 yards out in the center of the field.
With the American Fork wall set up about six yards in front of the net, there was not much room for a shot to find its way to the back of the net, but somehow, that is exactly what McKendrick did. Dahl touched the ball to set it for the senior midfielder and free her to put it on frame, and then McKendrick struck an absolute laser through the only opening in the well, inside the post for what turned out to be the game-winner.
The loss still leaves the Cavemen (6-1-1 in Region 4, 8-3-1 overall) in full control of their own destiny to earn the league championship. The only other blemish on the American Fork Region 4 record is a tie with Lehi, while Lone Peak (6-2, 9-3) has a loss to Herriman on its ledger. If the Cavemen win out, they will finish on top of the second-place Knights, but there is still work to do for both.
American Fork visits Pleasant Grove (3-6, 6-7) Tuesday, while Lone Peak hosts Westlake (5-4, 7-6) as the Thunder look to stay in position to earn a postseason berth from this league.