ESA Complex – St. Albert’s medal contenders at Tier I provincials met their match in Wednesday’s premier men’s promotion challenge in the Edmonton District Soccer Association.
The division 1A Rangers surrendered two goals in the opening 40 minutes against AC Milan and ended up on the wrong side of the 2-0 score.
“It was tough playing against a premier team. I don’t know whether we were ready for it yet,” said striker Will Backhouse with a sigh after the loss.
The Rangers have been pining for a return to premier after their 2012 last-place showing and relegation into division 1A. The next year they lost the promotion challenge to S.S. Lazio and their second shot at premier was against Milan after placing second in division 1A for the second time in four years.
“We’re disappointed obviously that we’re not going into premier now but we’ll go to provincials and see how we do,” said Backhouse, of next weekend’s tournament in Calgary. “Obviously we want to win provincials. We’re not going down there to get fourth place or third place or second place. We for sure want to get gold.”
The last provincial medal for the Rangers was Tier I bronze in 2007 after finishing first in premier at 12-2-4.
The Rangers are the second EDSA rep to qualify for this year’s Tier I provincials after last week’s 2-1 comeback triumph against Croatia Hajduk and the forfeit by division 1A-leading Sherwood Park Karpaty (12-0-2) in the playdown fixtures.
The Rangers rallied from a 1-0 halftime deficit with goals by John Paterson, a tap-in after the keeper’s act of thievery on Noah Boyko’s airborne attempt on a corner kick, and Backhouse’s team-high 14th goal on a penalty shot after Ben Smith was hauled down by two defenders in the box.
“The team dug deep and didn’t give up when the first goal went in,” Backhouse said. “We actually dominated that game. It should’ve been four or five (goals for the Rangers).”
Croatia Hajduk finished second in division 1B at 7-1-6 (plus-five goals for/against), compared to 8-4-2 (plus-17 goals for/against) for the Rangers in the division 1A standings.
The Rangers claimed the second and last spot in the provincial/promotion challenge playdowns with a must-win 4-0 decision against the seventh-place Rising Stars in the last league contest Aug. 8.
The previous match for the Rangers was the 3-0 setback to Africana FC with second place at stake. The outcome dropped the Rangers one point behind Africana. The next week Africana (7-3-4, 30 GF/17 GA) settled for a 1-1 draw with sixth-place Man City to finish one point behind the Rangers.
“To bounce back from the Africana game like that was huge. I couldn’t believe that we got back into it the way we did. Everyone played with the freedom of just enjoying the game,” said Backhouse, who lit up the Rising Stars with four goals. “I didn’t think it was a game that was going to matter too much so I kind of played with no pressure and they just started falling on the plate for me. Johnny (Mark) set me up with three of the four so he needs a good shout for that.”
The outburst lifted the Lorne Akins School teacher’s aide into a tie for top spot in the division scoring race with Jerad Uytterhagen of Karpaty with 13 goals apiece.
“These guys are the ones putting it on the plate for me every time and I’m just doing the easy job of putting it into the net,” said Backhouse, the division 1B St. Albert Impact’s leading scorer last year with six goals for a share of fourth place in the division.
“I was disappointed I didn’t score today because obviously I want to score every game,” added the Swindon, England soccer product who played two years for the Cayuga Community College Spartans in upstate New York before arriving in St. Albert.
The best chance of the night for Backhouse was his lethal strike while cutting in tight towards the Milan net that rattled the post on the short side and ricocheted out of bounds with two minutes remaining.
In the first half, Backhouse advanced the ball past the halfway line before sending it to a streaking Giordano Morgulis and his shot was deflected away by the goalkeeper for a corner kick in the 28th minute.
Three minutes later, Milan slotted a pass across the top of the box past Zach Black and in the 40th minute converted a cross by getting a foot on the ball by the charging forward.
The Rangers came close on a couple of corner kicks by the ageless Mike Thompson in the opening 45 minutes.
Black also pulled off a big save by challenging the shooter in the 18th minute to keep it scoreless.
The Rangers played with more urgency after the break but were unable to find the back of the net despite quality chances by Boyko, second on the team in goals with five, and a couple of headers by veteran Dave Letourneau off corner kicks that narrowly missed the mark.
Despite the disappointing result the Rangers remained upbeat over their successful season.
“It’s an all-around good team,” said Backhouse, who joined the impressive Boyko (second-highest division 1B Impact scorer last year with five goals), Black and Dan Sperling as newcomers on the 18-man roster after the Rangers’ third-place 7-4-3 (plus-11 goals for/against) showing in 2015.
“The team just clicks from the first whistle to the last. Everyone is into every tackle, everyone is kicking every ball and everyone wants to win.”