When Free State High and Shawnee Mission South meet in soccer, there must be something about home field. It doesn't seem to give an edge to either side.
FSHS lost its season opener, 4-1, at home Tuesday afternoon to SM South.
The Firebirds defeated the Raiders by the same score last season - at Shawnee Mission South's home field.
Free State showed early signs of rust compared to the Raiders, which was not a surprise, especially considering Shawnee Mission South (2-2) already had played three games this season.
"We can't use that excuse that it's the first game of the season," said junior forward Alex Clayton, who was second-team all-state last season. "We should have come out with a lot more intensity. I think because we beat these guys last year that we we were thinking, 'Oh, these guys aren't that good.'"
The Raiders certainly were good on Tuesday. They had 18 shots on goal to the Firebirds' seven. The ball was noticeably more on Free State's side of the field during the first half. In fact, Free State didn't have a shot on goal for the first 11 minutes of play. Its second one came with 5:29 left in the first half.
"I thought the first 20 minutes were really poor," Free State coach Jason Pendleton said. "We looked unorganized, and they were taking it to us. We looked a bit overwhelmed."
More about the game
Junior forward Erik Slan was one of the few bright spots for FSHS. He produced the first goal of the FSHS soccer season with 26:28 remaining in the game. Slan made a quick move to his left, faking out a SMS defender. With the defender clearly behind him and only the SMS goalkeeper to beat, Slan took advantage of a clear shot. It caught the right corner of the goal.
"I was just down in the corner, and the ball was bouncing, and I got a good turn and beat a guy, shot far post and it went in," Slan said. "I tried to do it earlier, and it didn't work the first time, so I tried a second time."
Free State played much better in the second half. The Firebirds produced five shots on goal to the Raiders' seven in the last 40 minutes. Slan nearly scored again with nine minutes left in the game when junior Frankie Hurtig blasted a free kick toward the goal. Slan's header barely missed left and was inches wide of the target.
"We showed signs of what we're capable of from an offensive standpoint," Pendleton said. "Now from a defensive standpoint, we need to sort things out and try to get a little bit more organized so that we don't make the same mistakes again."
Defensively, senior goalkeeper Mitch Morrow started in goal for the Firebirds. After halftime, freshman goalkeeper Ethan Morton-Gaught, a projected big-impact player for the future, took over. They both gave up two goals.
"I watched them in warmups and made my decision there, and then when we got down 2-0, I figured, why not go with the freshman?" Pendleton said. "We could use Mitch as a good enough field player and he's athletic enough where he gives us more on the field and gives us another option and more numbers. We'll see if Ethan's going to be the guy or not. The kid's got potential, but he just has to get older quicker."
Free State will take on Lawrence High at 4 p.m. at home Thursday. Pendleton said he had no idea who would start in goal.
"The only thing I know for sure is that I'm going to be the coach, and the lineup could change," Pendleton said, sarcastically.