It may seem a little early in the season for a must-win game, but for the Tahoma and Auburn Riverside girls soccer teams, Tuesday’s match at Maxwell Field had all the feel of a postseason contest.
And although the Ravens were able to eke out a 1-0 South Puget Sound League North Division victory – courtesy of junior forward Stephanie Horibe’s unassisted goal in the 49th minute – both teams played as though they had something to prove.
For Auburn Riverside (5-0-1, 16 points heading into Thursday’s round of games), it was all about making its presence again felt in the SPSL North after spending two years exile in the SPSL 3A, where they were league champions last season.
For the Bears (3-2-1, 10 points) it was about bouncing back from a pair of scoreless games.
The game played out as expected from two teams known for their stifling defenses. Coming into the contest, Tahoma had given up just two goals in its previous five matches. Auburn Riverside’s defense, centered around junior goalkeeper Gina Cardenas, was nearly as stalwart, giving up just three goals in its first five matches.
“My game plan was just to try and stay with them and hopefully get the first goal, which always helps a lot,” said Tahoma coach Corinne Welch. “We obviously didn’t do that, but the girls played hard. Our offensive attack didn’t work the way we hoped. But the Ravens had a solid defense.”
It all went according to plan, noted Auburn Riverside coach Paul Lewis.
“They have one forward, Savannah Johnson who I know from scouting her and the kids know from club soccer, that they run a lot of their offense through,” Lewis said. “She’s the focal point of their offense. So we changed up a little. I had one of our kids, Shannon Keith, mark her. I changed her up from sweeper to match up with (Johnson). And as long as we could control her, I knew we would be in good shape.”
Lewis’ plan paid off, forcing both teams to ratchet up the physicality of play as they vied for control.
“I would say historically, that Tahoma is not normally one of those physical teams,” Lewis said. “Normally they have had some real talented players and haven’t had to rely on the physicality. I think part of that just increased (Tuesday night) with their level of frustration.”
Lewis added that the physical play is just part of the game that his team needs to learn to cope with.
“In the past, if you’re physical with us, it tended to take us out of the game,” he said. “But I’ve been talking to the kids and working with them on fighting through that.”
The two teams will meet up again on Oct. 25, a match that could have plenty of playoff implications.
“It feels good to be back (in the SPSL North),” Lewis said. “I know the kids have been really looking forward to it.”
According to Welch, who said her team will be working on “simple things” like ball control in practice this week, the return of the Ravens to the North is a welcome addition, despite being on the losing end on Tuesday.
“The SPSL has always been a competitive league,” Welch said. “And that’s good. That competition only makes us stronger during the regular season, which helps us in the postseason, the districts and, hopefully, at state.”