Bellevue 2-0 Mercer Island
12th min Raina (Lillian)
67th min Alex (Gaby)
So I was up at 4am this morning to watch the final day of the Ryder Cup. The Ryder Cup is a team golf competition between the USA and Europe that has been contested for decades and is soaked in tradition and emotion. It's a rare competition for the best professional golfers in the world that doesn't have a purse. Millions of dollars aren't awarded to the winners (at least not directly), just the glory of representing your country and your team. And in my opinion, it's the team rivalry of the Ryder Cup that makes it the most compelling event in golf (with apologies to the majors). The crowds are fiercely partisan and vocal, heckling and singing chants from the first tee to the last. The emotions run so so so high that even caddies start to point fingers and banter with opponents and fans. In every iteration, the Ryder Cup has moments of breath-takingly clutch performances and execution followed by fist-pumps and celebrations that are rarely seen at typically staid golf tournaments. And at the end of every match, after enduring the heckling, jeering, and pressure-cooker moments, both competitors honorably shake hands regardless of victory or defeat.
And so we played Mercer Island yesterday.
Comparing the intense rivalry of the Ryder Cup to our game against Mercer Island is probably a bit hyperbolic (just a bit...), but the emotions and anticipation can feel just as intense. For our seniors, it was likely our last visit to "The Jungle" as MI has oddly branded their home turf. (Jungle? On a suburban island?) And other than playoff soccer, it is usually our most intense experience of the season. When we did our goal-setting in pre-season, the most common goal written by our players (other than defending our state title) was beating MI. Therefore, regardless of records going into each MI game, the rivalry is always fiercely contested. And so it was yesterday from the opening whistle, with flying tackles, tough challenges, and frenetic energy setting the tone for the first ten minutes.
Eventually, we settled down and began to play the type of soccer that was necessary against a high-pressing team like MI: patient passing, quick switching of play, selfless running, and team-first balance and organization. We were rewarded in the 12th minute with a goal of the highest quality and simplicity. From deep in MI territory, Alex took a throw-in to Lillian's feet, Lillian controlled the ball with her first touch, spun, and made a quick low pass behind the MI backline to Raina on the opposite wing with nobody but the keeper to beat. Raina took a composed first touch as the keeper charged, and calmly passed the ball into the net with her second touch to give us the lead. Wonderful goal. 1-0 Bellevue. For the rest of the first half, we continued to control possession and created several excellent chances including a snap-shot by Kaitlyn that looked destined for the upper corner if not for an exceptional diving save by the MI keeper who had a great game. Halftime 1-0 Bellevue.
The second half had the same feel as the first: fiercely competitive, but with most of the play being contested in the MI half of the field. We finally got the insurance goal we wanted in the 67th minute, as Gaby sent a curling free kick behind the MI backline for Alex to poke home. 2-0 Bellevue. Final score.
I'm proud of how we handled the game. MI rivalries always have the potential to get overly physical and emotional, and I thought we did a good job of keeping our heads and sticking with our game plan. Yes, we'd prefer to finish more of the numerous chances we are creating...but we are creating A LOT of chances in each game we play. I'm confident our finishing ratio will get better. But we aren't allowing a lot of chances either. MI managed one shot on Saturday and the final stats were in our favor, Bellevue 22/5 shots/corners to 1/0 for the Islanders.
Shutouts are a result of an entire team being committed to preventing opportunities for the other team, and in 8 games so far this season, we have 5 shutouts. That's a ratio I hope to keep during the back half of our season.
We have two more games left in the first half of our Kingco regular season, and they happen to be the top two challengers to the league title and among the RPI top-rated 3A programs in state: #12 Liberty and #6 Lake Washington (we are currently ranked #1). Liberty on Tuesday at home, and then we go to LW on Thursday. Both teams have had very impressive starts to their seasons and I expect these games to be of the highest quality.
At the end of the Ryder Cup this morning (afternoon in Italy), the Europeans emerged victorious after a late charge by the USA wasn't quite enough. The European team is now undefeated on their home turf for over 30 years. It reminded me that Bellevue girls soccer hasn't suffered a defeat on home turf for several years either. It's a record we hope to extend on Tuesday.