Lima Senior vs Toledo St Johns

I made my way to Spartan Stadium on Tuesday evening to see the soccer match between Toledo St. John's and Lima Senior.  Historically this has been a very lopsided series. I believe last years match ended as a 10-0 St. John's victory and understand this to be a typical score when these two meet on the pitch. This type of dominance can be difficult to overcome, but it most certainly can be done.

A few years ago I took over a local high school program that had never had a winning season. Over an 11 year span the average score of their matches had been 1 - 5.  In my 2 years at the school we went 21-12-5 with an average score in our matches of  3 -  1.  Part of that process included teaching the players in that program they could indeed compete with teams who had beaten them year after year. The players set goals like "we just want to score against them" and "we just want to keep it close"  In the days leading up to last nights match up these are the type of comments I heard from the Lima Senior players and parents. Unacceptable in my mind.

Why admit defeat before ever playing the game?

If that's your attitude, let's just forfeit the match and prepare for one where the odds are more to our liking.

I never spoke of winning or losing to that program we turned around. I was appalled when we lost 0-1 to a team that had trounced them year after year and our players celebrated the moral victory like they had just won the World Cup. I remember watching those kids jumping for joy over a loss and thinking about how far we still had to go in changing the culture of the program. I had the same feeling heading into last nights match.

The Spartans lost the match before the opening whistle blew. They had conceded defeat and were looking for moral victory. The Spartan players wanted to score against St. Johns.  That's it.  They would be happy with or settle for scoring against Toledo St. Johns.

This is a talented Lima Senior team. It might be the best team in the Lima area this season. They will not prove that to be true until they change their thinking. The Spartans have made so much progress in the past 15 months. I believe our camp experiences with the Spartans have played a small part in this, but head coach Mitch Monfort and his assistants Phil Vermillion and Matt Berney deserve credit for their work with this team. It has been thrilling to observe the changes coming over the program. I firmly believe they are ready to take a huge step as a program... but it will not happen until they change their expectations.


The Spartans do not fully believe they can compete in every match. There are teams on their schedule who they still look at as certain losses.  I'm calling b.s. on this type of thinking.  This Spartan team can compete with anyone. I believe this to be true, but it is the team who must develop and nurture this belief in themselves.  Moral victory be damned. Upsets happen every day, so why not for the Spartans? 

In last nights match it was immediately obvious that Toledo St. Johns is a quality side. Their pace of play was astonishing. Every single time the ball moved all 11 of their players were in motion as well. Talk about player movement? Oh my! Their communication was outstanding. Coupled with excellent first touch and limiting themselves to one or two touch play the ball was zipping around the field with amazing speed. 

Even so, the Spartans stood their ground well. They had to defend most of the time, but did so as a team and with poise under constant pressure. When you can defend well, you will always have a chance for victory.

Zachary Roller put the Titans on the board in the games 9th minute. The confidence St. Johns were playing with gave every indication of their belief this was going to be another rout of the Spartans.  Lima Senior did not fold. They stood tall and continued to battle. Even when Camden Buescher scored for St Johns in the 12th minute of the game there didn't appear to be any panic in the Spartans.

When the whistle sounded for half time the score remained 0-2 in favor of St. Johns and Lima Senior had begun to generate some attack.  The Spartans had just pitched a shutout against the Titans for the final 28:20 of the first half.

That fact did not go unnoticed on the Titans sideline.

It wasn't until the games 51st minute that Buescher scored once again for St. Johns.  Lima Senior had shut the Titans down for 40 straight minutes.  That equates to one entire half of soccer.  Who says, the Spartans cannot compete against the big boys?

A big portion of the credit for the shut out 40 minutes of action goes to Spartan goalkeeper Caleb Grundisch (14 saves) and the Spartan back line of Hunter Vermillion, Levi Quintero, Taylor Mericle and Antrelle Blisset who played as a unit and had one another's back in protecting their goal.

I wouldn't say there was panic on the St Johns sidelines, but I was watching their coaching staff during the match. Their head coach went from a relaxed confidence to prowling the sidelines and actively coaching / imploring his team during those 40 minutes of scoreless soccer.  As another 19 minutes of scoreless play ticked off the clock it was evident that while the Titans felt confident of the victory they were not pleased with the closeness of the score.

St Johns got back on the board with under 10 minutes to play when Sergio Gonzales-Brana scored on a header off a corner kick. Although Lima Senior had begun to substitute frequently, St. Johns kept many of their front line players in. The Titans scored two more goals in those final minutes. In the games 76th minute Zachary Buescher received sideways on with his first touch leading to goal behind the Spartans back line and his second touch finding the back of the net. And in the games 80th minute Z. Buescher scored again when he gathered a loose ball and broke in behind the Spartan defenders.

Seriously?  St. Johns poured in 3 goals in the games final 9:30 of play?

Obviously there is a bit more to this story.

The Spartans had two brilliant chances to score goals after the Titans went up 3-0.  Alex Ehora was played in behind the Titans defense and only a very solid play by the St Johns goal keeper Jarrett Karalfa kept the Spartans off the board. Then, Ehora blasted a shot off the post a short time later that might as well have been a lightening bolt going through the St Johns sidelines. It woke the Titans up and led to many of their starters being in the game for those final 9 minutes of play.

Yeah, Titan coach Thomas Shook was sending a message. He wanted to reassert the idea of Titan dominance over the Spartans. Again, I call b.s. on this very notion. This Spartan team is for real and they will begin to show it just as soon as they move beyond settling for moral victory and begin believing they can play with anyone. As soon as that happens this program is going to take off.  Will that be yet this season?

That's up to the Spartans to decide, but I see no reason why it shouldn't be.

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