ENGLEWOOD - Once Liberty Common seized a lead over Colorado Springs Christian, the soccer strategy became elemental.
Liberty’s Eagles played defense, and that’s it. They made no pretense of trying to score. Coach Cyrus Salehi commanded his players to shut down Colorado Springs Christian’s powerful offense, and the Eagles obeyed.
The strategy worked in the semifinals of the 3A soccer tournament at Englewood High School. Colorado Springs Christian lost, 2-1, ending a season in which the Lions scored 104 goals with their revved up attack.
Liberty has rolled to an undefeated 19-0 season and the 3A state title game with a less glamorous approach. The Eagles have allowed 12 goals this season.
Salehi was jubilant after the victory.
“As you saw, it wasn’t pretty, but we didn’t need to score another goal,” he said.
In the second half, Salehi took a look at the scoreboard and made an easy decision. It would be defense-only from that point on.
“I saw that some of their star players were gassed, and we went into what we call parking the bus,” Salehi said. “We went into a tight block. We said no entry and they couldn’t get through.”
Colorado Springs Christian coach Jason Rollins spoke with tears in his eyes. His Lions end the season with a 16-3 record.
“I hate soccer sometimes,” Rollins said. “I hate it. We were the better team and I think everybody watching this game would agree. You can dominate a game and come up short, and that’s what we did tonight.”
Liberty Common took the lead almost instantly when Zach Harker scored on a far-post shot two minutes into the game.
The Lions soon quickly answered. Lookens Smith drew a crowd before directing an expertly placed pass to Noah Banderas, who powered a 15-yard shot into the net.
The game winner came with 10:30 left in the first half. Liberty’s Elliot McCormick launched a 45-yard shot that found the back of the net. Soon, Liberty players were engaged in parking that bus.
Still, the Lions came achingly close to tying the game. With 1:45 left, Ethan Campagna had a point-blank opportunity, but his shot bounced off the leg of Liberty defender Josh Rohrbaugh. The Lions were finished.
Smith took a break from consoling his teammates to talk about the loss. Smith and his brother, Kinsley, combined for 49 goals this season. Both will return to lead the Lions in 2018.
“We had the opportunities,” Smith said. “We played hard. It just wasn’t meant to be. We had a lot of shots on goal, and they didn’t go in. It’s just one of those things.”