Soccer insiders say the 2018 season may have the most individual standout players in Middle Border Conference history. Two of them collided when the New Richmond and Amery boys ventured onto the NRHS field last Thursday, and it resulted in an offensive show that has rarely been seen in the MBC.
New Richmond’s AJ Johnson and Amery’s Galen Coy held the starring roles as the two MBC powers crossed swords on Thursday. They both lived up to their reputations, and so did the game, which ended in a 5-5 tie.
This is the non-conference version of this showdown between teams that went to the WIAA state championships, New Richmond in Division 2 and Amery in Division 3. The conference game will be played on Sept. 27 in Amery.
Johnson, Coy and Baldwin-Woodville’s Jacek Nickowski are considered three of the most dynamic, skilled players that have ever played in the MBC. That showed in Thursday’s game, with Johnson scoring four of the Tigers’ goals and Coy scoring three times for the Warriors.
Thursday’s game had as many twists and turns as a good spy novel. The Tigers haven’t been fast starters this season and Amery took advantage building a 2-0 lead in the first 13 minutes. The Tigers roared back with the next three goals, but Amery scored just before halftime to make the score 3-3 at the break. Johnson scored two of the first half Tiger goals, with Caleb Armstrong getting the second goal of the half.
The Tigers were up 4-3 with nine minutes remaining, but Amery scored twice to gain a 5-4 advantage with less than five minutes remaining. The Tigers weren’t done. The Tigers got the ball close to the net, where Jose Rapolo headed the ball out of a scrum of players. Johnson was able to get a foot on the ball, driving it past the Amery keeper with less than two minutes on the clock.
Tiger coach Darian Blattner said one of the best signs from this game was that all five goals came on assists, showing how well the team is sharing the ball. He said the Tigers are also getting the ball into open spaces on the field, where they can use their superior speed to create scoring chances.
The Tigers earned a 9-0 win last Tuesday in a game at Osceola. Johnson scored four times, Dave Miller scored once and Phillip Neblich notched one goal and two assists. Javier Perez-Sanchez scored his first three varsity goals during the second half of the game.
“He’s stepped up his play and he’s getting a chance to play more,” Blattner said.
This weekend the Tigers face a challenging road trip. It starts with a game against Monona Grove on Friday. On Saturday, the Tigers will play at Oregon, which advanced to the WIAA Division 2 state tournament along with the Tigers last season. Oregon is currently ranked fifth in the state in Division 2.
“If we want to take the next step, these are the kind of teams we need to play,” Blattner said.