By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Glendale soccer coach Jeff Rogers had an easy night on Tuesday, relatively speaking.
Rogers’ Falcons cruised to a 3-1 win at Neosho in the Class 3 quarterfinals, and he told his players afterward that he didn’t have to do much coaching, but spent most of the night just watching.
“My point was I got caught up in just watching how well we were playing,” he said. “I didn’t do much coaching so I just enjoyed watching the kids play.”
Glendale earned a berth in the final four for the seventh time in school history. The Falcons were last there in 2018 when they won 6-2 at Neosho in another quarterfinal showdown.
“This is who we are,” Rogers said. “We expect to be in these games.”
“Our kids are used to playing at a high level and we’re peaking at the right time,” he said. “We came in here, there was no way we felt like we were the underdog tonight for sure. And our kids stepped up and played that way.”
The Falcons never trailed on Tuesday, leading 1-0 at the half and cruising after the break. Neosho’s lone goal came in the final minute.
Glendale opened the scoring in the 27th minute after a free kick on a goal by sophomore Andrei Balanean with senior Aaron Baldwin assisting.
“Andrei is a specialist at that stuff,” Rogers said. “He’s a kid who brings his own bag of balls, he shows up early for practice, he stays late and he works on those all the time so anytime he steps on that kind of look we’re confident he’s going to get a good look and he just buried it near post.”
The Falcons had two more good scoring chances in the final minutes of the half but came up empty thanks to a pair of highlight-reel plays by the Wildcats.
The first came in the 32nd minute on a header off a deep throw in near the Neosho goal. Wildcat senior Diego Vargas intercepted the ball with a header of his own and sent it over the crossbar.
Balanean took another shot less than two minutes later that was headed for the back of the net before Neosho senior keeper Kayden Wood made a diving save to his left.
The Falcons made it a 2-0 game in the 53rd minute when Baldwin sent a perfect ball in front of the goal to junior Biak Lian, who punched it in.
Baldwin had a near-miss of his own in the 58th minute, but the Falcons struck again with 15 minutes to play when junior Charlie Raridon cleaned up a corner and scored from the right side.
Neosho’s goal came on a header by senior Vance Montgomery following a corner kick.
The Wildcats missed several other chances. Sophomore Juan Perez missed a foot-and-a-half high on a shot in the first half and then again a foot wide left early in the second half. Junior Gabriel Zapete hit the crossbar in the 55th minute and senior Alberto Robledo nearly scored with 15 seconds to play but Glendale junior keeper Camden Meyer made a diving stop.
“I really thought we played well,” Neosho coach James Carter said. “I thought we played our style of play until the very end and if you’re going to go out in the last game of the year then that’s the way you want to go out, attacking and possessing and all that stuff. I thought probably the biggest difference, if you’re just going to sum it up today, they scored the couple chances they got and we didn’t. That’s kind of what the game came down to today.”
Both teams took five shots but Neosho possessed the ball more than 20 minutes more than Glendale did. Carter said it took the Wildcats some time to settle in in the first half.
“What we found the last 10 minutes is when we’re attacking we’re most comfortable and they were most uncomfortable,” he said. “We came out the second half and I thought we did that almost the whole half. It’s just kind of one of those things where the couple chances we had – and you’re only going to get a few in a game like this – we just couldn’t put them away.”
Rogers was ecstatic with Glendale’s play, saying he thought the Falcons won every aspect of the game.
“We were well prepared and I think there was no doubt who the better team was tonight,” he said.
“We’re playing our best soccer right now and I’m just happy for the kids.”
The Falcons improved to 17-4 and have won nine in a row heading into a semifinal matchup with Ft. Zumwalt South (21-4) on Saturday. Glendale has allowed just one goal in that span.
“This is my 30th year doing this,” Rogers said. “I love being out here with these kids and this is the best time of the year for us.”
Neosho finishes with a 19-2 record and the loss snapped a 16-game winning streak for the Wildcats, who lost in the Class 3 semifinals last season. The team said goodbye to the 11 seniors on the varsity roster, a group that helped win 60 games in four years.
“To sum it up I think this program’s really just in debt to that senior class and probably a debt I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to repay,” Carter said. “They just gave us so much. Four straight district championships, sectional wins, quarterfinal wins, trip to the state playoffs. They really kind of set the standard and in particular their emphasis on our year this year ending with only two losses. What I told them is it really kind of sets the standard for what this program can do.”