Story and photos by Kurt Johnson
PROVO – It seems like every game day in Region 7 soccer brings the next critical matchup among four teams that are in the chase for the league title. Thursday, the battle of battles was a night game at Timpview, with the front-running Alta Hawks in town.
Soccer at its highest, most competitive levels, is often low scoring and intense. This match was intense and insanely competitive, and the defense was not necessarily bad, but Alta established itself as the team to beat, at least for now, in the region with a high-scoring 4-3 victory that dropped the T-Birds into a tie for third.
The Hawks and Thunderbirds both have things working when it comes to player movement and letting the ball do the work. The passing was crisp and the speed and talent up top put constant pressure on the defenses as the action swung impressively from end to end.
Timpview jumped to the early lead with a goal in the game’s fourth minute. Dakota Smith played a beautiful through-ball on the ground between Hawk defenders and Lily Haskins ran onto the ball, beating the last Alta back line player in time to carry it past the keeper and find the back of the net.
With Abby Woodfield, Ashton Brockbank and the rest of the T-Birds doing a nice job controlling the midfield early, it was difficult for the Hawks to mount much in the way of an attack during the first 20 minutes, but Alta got things figured out and from that point forward the middle third was heavily contested.
In the 30th minute, the Hawks got the equalizer off a set piece as a ball played towards the goal rebounded into the field of play to Lizzy Porter, who buried the shot just inside the post to level the match at 1-1. Timpview had a chance to jump on top again just before intermission when the Alta goalie mishandled a ball in front of her frame and saw it bounce at the feet of Thunderbird attacker Jayda Clarke, who was not able to put it away.
Both teams did a great job of playing the team game, with players finding space to receive the next pass, usually a short, well-executed pass. Another commonality between these squads is the talent of the strikers going both ways, with Timpview playing those through-balls to Haskins and Smith, while Alta drives the ball forward, targeting talented forwards Sadie Mertlich and Brecken Mozingo.
Add in the speed and precision in the midfield and out of the back and you had the makings of a fast-paced contest. As the game progressed, the scoring picked up speed to match the pace of its participants. The first second-half tally came in the 45th minute.
Mozingo played a great ball forward to Morgan Lyman, who found Mertlich in position to beat the keeper for the left-footed finish. A minute later, a Brockbank shot cracked off the crossbar for the Thunderbirds, but before the Hawks could catch a breath, Smith was back in position and her shot slipped just beneath the bar for a top-shelf goal and a 2-2 tie.
With the teams battling for every free ball, taking turns making deep runs into the other team’s defensive third, a hand-ball call was the turning point of the night. After a discussion between the officials to determine the location where the foul occurred, the Hawks were awarded a penalty kick in the 63rd minute and Mozingo drilled the shot to put Alta on top to stay.
Late in the game, the Hawks benefited from the corner kick proficiency of midfielder Abbey Miller. More than once, the junior dropped balls into dangerous scoring positions and finally, in the 78th minute, Mozingo got a touch on one of those corners and pushed it into the back of the net to double the advantage to 4-2.
A minute later, Alta committed a foul inside its 18-yard box and Brockbank banged home the penalty kick to get the match back to a one goal difference. As the teams headed into stoppage time, Brockbank got one more chance, but her shot was right at Hawk goalie Sam Myers and the final score was set.
The fight for Region 7 supremacy continues as the teams reach the end of the first round of matchups Tuesday. Alta (6-0 in Region 7, 6-1 overall) sits atop the league standings and the Hawks now own wins over both Timpanogos and Timpview, who are each 4-2 in league play. Next up for Alta is Corner Canyon (5-1, 7-1), currently in second place, at the Chargers’ place, Tuesday afternoon.
The Thunderbirds (4-2, 4-3-1) close the first half with a home game Tuesday against Provo (0-5, 1-5) and then those four teams will start one more time through each of the teams in the region with critical playoff positioning very much up for grabs.