Until they committed a late first-half mistake, the North Pole boys gave West everything it could handle Thursday in the first round of the high school state soccer tournament at Eagle River High School.
West, which last week won its first Cook Inlet Conference title in 20 years, walked away with a 3-0 win on goals from Abdou Sallah, Henry Vasquez and Max Osgood. The Eagles will play Colony in Friday's semifinals at Chugiak High.
"The boys played well, they kept it together, actually put the ball on the ground and played some nice soccer at times," West coach Laef Eggan said. "Tomorrow's gonna be a huge match, because Colony's big and strong and aggressive. It'll be a war, basically."
The turning point Thursday came with less than a minute left in the first half. Sallah intercepted a pass near the top of the North Pole penalty box and took advantage of a clear shooting lane to break a scoreless tie. The pass was soft and rolled right into Sallah's wheelhouse, basically setting up a free penalty kick.
"That caused them to lose a little confidence," North Pole coach Robert Martinez said of his players. "They dropped their heads a little bit."
The goal was difficult to absorb for a North Pole squad that had only been scored upon one other time this year, a season shortened to seven matches because of lingering snow on North Pole's home field.
"Our season almost really got cancelled," Martinez said. "The boys are very happy to be here."
Many of the North Pole players were laughing and enjoying the match in the second half, even after Vasqeuz put West up 2-0 and Osgood provided the highlight of the match with a 40-yard strike.
Osgood, a senior midfielder who also spent some time playing striker earlier in the season, received plenty of cheers from his teammates after the blast.
"You always love to have the support of your teammates, especially when they're excited for you," Osgood said. "It was a split-second decision. I just decided to throw it up there and was pretty lucky it went in."
West's game plan was to put as many shots on net as possible, a strategy that influenced Osgood's decision to let the ball fly from long range. The Eagles weren't familiar with North Pole and Osgood said they spent the first 20 minutes of the match just trying to get a feel for the Patriots' style of play.
"That goal right before the end of the half, that mistake they made, really brought us up and brought them down, so it was pretty fortunate," Osgood said
South 2, Wasilla 0
Eyob Imlach delivered a pair of second-half goals Thursday to spearhead South's 2-0 opening-round victory over Wasilla at Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium in Chugiak.
Imlach opened the scoring in the 53rd minute with a low shot that glanced off the hands of diving Warriors goalkeeper Corey Hogan.
Imlach gave the Wolverines an insurance goal in the 62nd minute, when he unleashed a low, booming 25-yard free kick just inside the right post.
Griffin Toomey notched the shutout for South
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS