Huskies upset top seeded Lakers in state quarters thriller

Unseeded Andover provided a pretty good display of how to work a counterattack to generate not only offensive chances but goals to upset No. 1 seed Minneapolis Southwest 2-1 in the Class AA state boys’ soccer quarterfinals Oct. 24.

Andover senior forward Andrew Bird celebrates his equalizing goal just before halftime in the Huskies’ 2-1 Class AA state quarterfinal win over Minneapolis Southwest at Chisago Lakes Area High School Oct. 24.

Andover senior forward Andrew Bird celebrates his equalizing goal just before halftime in the Huskies’ 2-1 Class AA state quarterfinal win over Minneapolis Southwest at Chisago Lakes Area High School Oct. 24. Photo by Jason Olson

Despite being out shot 15-6, Andover made the most of its opportunities in the game played at Chisago Lakes Area High School.

“We tried to keep the ball away from their metro player of the year [Zack Neiberger] in the air, which is pretty hard to do because he is everywhere,” Andover coach John Schlitchmann said. “We knew we had to play good team defense first and then counter.”

The Huskies weathered early chances for the Lakers by creating turnovers in their own end and quickly moving the ball up the field with sophomore Armin Bobaric and senior Emmanuel Ekunseitan. The two regularly targeted team scoring leader and senior captain Andrew Bird to force the opposition into making quick decisions.

“We have great chemistry,” Ekunseitan said about playing with Bird since the two were on the same summer under-11 team. “We weren’t on the same club team this summer, but we worked on things on our own.”

Andover senior Ben Nivala, left, watches Southwest’s Callen Knutson, head the ball toward the Huskies goal in the second half of the class AA state quarterfinal game played at Chisago Lakes Area High School Oct. 24.

Andover senior Ben Nivala, left, watches Southwest’s Callen Knutson, head the ball toward the Huskies goal in the second half of the class AA state quarterfinal game played at Chisago Lakes Area High School Oct. 24. Photo by Jason Olson

The result has been 27 goals and 15 assists for the Huskies top scorers.

“We’ve got some really nice attacking players in Andrew [Bird], Armin {Bobaric] and Emmanuel [Ekunseitan] and we know if we can get them the ball in space, we can make some things happen,” Schlitchmann said.

Southwest surrendered one goal or less in 16 games (six shutouts) and lone regular season loss was a 1-0 result against Minneapolis Washburn. Benilde-St. Margaret’s scored a season-high three goals in a 5-3 Southwest win Sept. 11. Neiberger had 11 goals, seven for game winners, during the regular season.

Southwest generated scoring chances, but shots high and wide of the goal were too often the result.

However, Skippers’ Karl Koergaard calmly buried a rebound from Tim Jordan that fell to him five feet from the Huskies goal for the opening goal of the game in the 33rd minute.

“We didn’t get too worried because we’ve been in that situation before,” Bird said recalling early deficits against Blaine and Centennial. “We just knew we could come back from this one.”

After missed chances for both teams, Bird broke through the Lakers defense while the ball was played over the top for a breakaway from 45 yards out one minute from halftime. He tucked the ball inside the right goal post before sprinting to the Huskies fans in the bleachers near midfield.

Andover had an idea that if it could stay away from Southwest’s defensive midfielders, it might have a better chance at scoring. That rang true in the up-tempo attacking style.

Ekuseitan said the style of offense wasn’t anything new. “We absorb a little [offense] from them then counterattack,” he said. “That’s our game and it worked perfectly today.”

Andover’s Emmanuel Ekunseitan, left, challenges North St. Paul’s Taylor Bruns, right, for the ball during the second half of the Class AA state semifinal game Oct. 28.

Andover’s Emmanuel Ekunseitan, left, challenges North St. Paul’s Taylor Bruns, right, for the ball during the second half of the Class AA state semifinal game Oct. 28.Photo by Jason Olson

Andover knew the Lakers would use set plays to develop scoring chances through throw-ins or free kicks. In the end, Andover’s straight ahead offense proved to be better than the Lakers.

“It helped pick everyone’s emotions up because they didn’t know how well they could play with a team like Southwest so that was a huge boost of confidence,” Schlitchmann said.

The emotional lift it gave to Andover was palpable throughout the second half.

Bird and the Huskies used the same tactics in the second half, but this time Ekunseitan found sophomore Maxwell Marquette for the decisive and his first varsity goal in the 61st minute to put Andover in the lead.

Ekunseitan outran the defense down the left side of the field and sent a well-timed centering pass from near the corner flag inside the goal box where Marquette redirected the one-timer on a two-on-one situation.

Schlitchmann said soccer games can come down to only a handful of players to make the difference like the Oct. 21 state opener. “It doesn’t take a ton of chances but we finished and that’s a great team over there [Southwest] and we played as good a team [defense] as we could and countered to make it count,” he said.

Ekunseitan said the win was a dream come true and the atmosphere really helped them stay focused. “We came out with a lot of passion and fire and we had a lot of fans come out,” he said. “It was a great atmosphere. Cold, but great.”

Andover students cheered on the boys’ soccer team during the Class AA state semifinal 2-1 loss to North St. Paul at the Mall of America Field Oct. 28.

Andover students cheered on the boys’ soccer team during the Class AA state semifinal 2-1 loss to North St. Paul at the Mall of America Field Oct. 28.Photo by Jason Olson

Schlitchmann said he was worried about how his team would play on the artificial turf surfaces instead of the natural grass field at Huskies Stadium. To get more training time in on the surface, Centennial offered its field days after the Huskies won the Section 7AA title.

The second game of  the evening found Prairie Seeds Academy’s first season in Class AA come to an end in a 2-1 loss to North St. Paul in the second game of the state doubleheader at Chisago Lakes. The Polars Justin Oliver assisted on both goals including his twin brother Tyler to tie the game in the 21st minute.

This is Andover’s second trip to the boys’ state tournament, but first as a Class AA school, having gone in 2004 as a Class A program.

Polars nip Andover in semifinals

Andover couldn’t find the same level of success in a 2-1 loss to North St. Paul in the state Class AA semifinal Monday.

Captain Ben Nivala gave the Huskies a 1-0 lead in the first half with a header off a corner kick from Bradley Williams at 15:54.

Andover captain Ben Nivala, right, was all over the field during Monday’s 2-1 state semifinal loss to North St. Paul. Nivala scored the lone Huskies goal off a corner kick from Bradley Williams in the 16th minute of the game.  Photo by Jason Olson

Andover captain Ben Nivala, right, was all over the field during Monday’s 2-1 state semifinal loss to North St. Paul. Nivala scored the lone Huskies goal off a corner kick from Bradley Williams in the 16th minute of the game.
Photo by Jason Olson

North St. Paul tied the game in the 49th minute when Justin Oliver played the ball to Adam Hildebrandt, who took it in stride and scored.

Polars senior Tyler King scored the game winner in the 59th minute on a free kick from outside the penalty area near the touchline. The ball glanced off a Huskies player with several players crashing around the Huskies goal area and goalie Colton Syler.

Andover outshot the Polars 12-8, including a 7-1 first-half advantage but North St. Paul edged the Huskies 5-2 in second half corner kicks.

Jason Olson is at
jason.olson@ecm-inc.com

up arrow