Making successful halftime adjustments may be the best ability the New Richmond boys soccer team has developed over the first month of the 2017 season.
The Tigers made adjustments at both ends of the field during halftime of their home game Sept. 11 against River Falls. Those adjustments paid off in a major way. The Tigers rallied from a 2-1 halftime deficit to defeat the Wildcats, 3-2.
Slow starts have been an issue for the Tigers, but that was stemmed somewhat when the Tigers scored 1:45 into this game. Senior Tyler Blattner produced the score. With the Tigers applying early pressure, Blattner got the ball deep in Wildcat territory. He zigged his way around a couple defenders and hit the corner of the net for the score.
The rest of the first half looked like two teams probing the defense of the other, looking for weaknesses. The Wildcats were able to score twice, on similar plays. River Falls is loaded with fast players. The Wildcats noticed that New Richmond's outside defensive players were playing them closely. On both scores, the Wildcats kicked the ball over the heads of the Tiger defenders and the faster Wildcat players were able to break to the net for scores.
Tiger coach Darian Blattner said one of the adjustments made at halftime was having the Tiger outside defenders give more of a cushion so they couldn't get beat over the top. In the first half, the Wildcats were able to put 15 shots on goal. With the changes in the defensive plan, River Falls was limited to five shots in the second half.
Offensively, the Tigers were facing a defense that was doing the same thing they'd seen in a recent win against Hayward, where the defensive players were venturing far up the field. The Tigers tried to be more patient in the second half, spreading out the River Falls defense to create avenues to the net. That happened on both of the second-half goals.
The tying goal came when Dave Miller made a pass inside to Blattner, who was making a cut toward the net. Blattner one-timed his shot into the right corner to tie the score in the 63rd minute.
The go-ahead goal came in the 74th minute. A Wildcat defender couldn't control the ball and New Richmond sophomore AJ Johnson gathered it in. He broke to his right, then cut a shot back to the left to find the corner of the net.
This game had seeding implications and it showed with the intensity of the final minutes, with River Falls battling in hopes of getting the tying goal. Coach Blattner said this was the first time this season the Tigers were in a position to protect a lead and it was an experience the team needed.
"Things got a little hairy in the last 10 minutes. You can't really simulate the closing minutes of a match in practice, so while not as clean as we would like, in the end we'll take the outcome," he said.
The next game for the Tigers is Thursday, Sept. 21, when they host Somerset. The Tigers have a pair of games scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 23, both against teams in the sectional bracket. The Tigers will play at Holmen at 11 a.m. and at Onalaska at 2:30 p.m. The Tigers will also be on the road Monday, Sept. 25, when they play at Spooner.