SECTION 2A BOYS SOCCER: No. 5 Marshall survives 1-0 over No. 12 Fairmont to open playoffs

Photo by Sam Thiel Marshall’s Mazin Abdallah looks to get past a Fairmont defender during their Section 2A tournament game on Thursday. The Tigers defeated the Cardinals 1-0.

MARSHALL – Both of Marshall’s games against the Fairmont Cardinals this season have been tight to start before the Tigers pulled away in the second half for victories. So when the two Big South conference foes met for the third time, the Tigers looked to replicate that formula.

What Marshall saw instead was a similar start with an even more heart-pounding ending.

The No. 5 seed Tigers got a first-half goal from Mazin Abdallah before turning to their defense to escape with a 1-0 thriller over the No. 12 seed Cardinals in Marshall’s opening round of the Section 2A playoffs Thursday.

“It feels amazing,” Abdallah said about moving on to the next round. “It feels amazing to keep on playing in sections and getting to play on Saturday in Mankato.”

With the freezing temperatures blanketing Mattke Field at kickoff, both teams made sure ball movement was at an all-time high in order to keep warm. That early movement quickly translated into scoring opportunities from the two programs, with Fairmont’s best shot attempt missing wide and a line-drive boot from Jonathan Alvarez drilling off the crossbar for Marshall midway through the opening half.

The Tigers continued to stay on the offensive attack, however, and with seven minutes remaining in the first half, Marshall got a corner kick opportunity. The Tigers booted a perfectly placed ball over the outstretched gloves of the Cardinals goalkeeper and Abdallah put in the back of the net on the header, giving Marshall a 1-0 lead in the process.

With only a slim lead heading into the second half, the Tigers kept up the intensity on both sides of the field and had multiple chances to extend their lead to two or more, but sprawling saves were made time and time again from Fairmont’s goalie to maintain Marshall’s lead to just one goal.

As the time continued to tick off the game clock, the Cardinals needed to push the ball upfield and create scoring chances if they were going to push the game into overtime and possibly extend their season. Fairmont did just that, weaving their way around Marshall defenders to take shots at the net, but Marshall goaltender Carlos Reyes matched Fairmont in the saves department, keeping the Cardinals off the board.

Still with a one-goal difference and just a few minutes left, the physicality that was seen throughout the majority of the game was even more evident in the second half. With two minutes to go, Marshall caught an unfortunate penalty that resulted in Soe K Doe receiving a red card.

Coach Matt Versaevel said they just have to maintain their composure in tight situations and not let the other team get in their heads as they move forward to Saturday’s game.

“It’s unfortunate that that happened because then we won’t be able to have him for next game,” coach Versaevel said. “We’ve just always got to keep our cool and not let the other team get in our heads and just work together. The fouls will happen but as long as we’re not the ones doing them so we just have to play our game.”

The Cardinals had one final opportunity to get the equalizer on a corner kick with under a minute to go, but Reyes and the Tiger defense knocked it away to cement the win.

Coach Versaevel said he was proud of his team’s overall effort and felt they did a great job of moving the ball around and working together as a group.

“The guys did an excellent job; they all worked well together, especially in the second half, they all came together and moved the ball around,” coach Versaevel said. “They did an excellent job.”

Defensively, coach Versaevel applauded the play of his goalkeepers, Tristan VanDeVere and Reyes, and said they did a great job of communicating plays near the net.

Our keepers did an excellent job of getting the ball and communicating,” coach Versaevel said. “The defense was organized and made sure they weren’t making mistakes and that we move to the ball and not let the ball just come to us.”

Marshall will now face No. 4 Mankato East on Saturday with the time and location to be determined. Coach Versaevel said their biggest takeaway will be to continue to play at a high level and maintain their intensity.

I would say we just have to keep up the intensity and keep playing good soccer and try and make sure that we continue to play together and move the ball around fast,” Versaevel said.