The Free State High soccer team defeated Leavenworth, 2-1, Tuesday afternoon at home. The Firebirds had 20 shots on goal to the Pioneers' 12.
On paper, these statistics don't seem too bad for Free State. But coach Jason Pendleton was in no mood to celebrate after his team's victory.
"We probably should have had six or seven goals," Pendleton said. "It was harder to miss some of those shots than it was to make them, so in that sense, that's disappointing."
Leavenworth's early goal came with 35:45 left in the first half. The referee penalized Free State for pushing a Leavenworth player in the back in the box, which set up a penalty kick. Leavenworth junior Jimmy Simon banked a shot off the right goalpost and past FSHS goalkeeper Mitch Morrow for the first goal of the game. Pendleton said he wasn't pleased with the call.
"I think soccer is a physical game and that it needs to be called as such," Pendleton said. "I didn't think the play in which they were granted a penalty kick warranted that call. The referee's call stands. I didn't like it, but I'll learn to live with it. You've got to take the good with the bad."
Free State (2-3) didn't score in the first 40 minutes and trailed Leavenworth (2-5) by a goal at halftime. This might have been a wakeup call to the Firebirds, especially senior Kyle Ceesay and junior Alex Clayton. The duo combined for both FSHS goals in the second half - Ceesay produced the assists and Clayton scored the goals. The first Firebirds' score came within the first minute of the second half.
"When the second half started, coach told me I owed him one," Ceesay said. "I beat my guy twice, then I saw Alex coming in, so I just passed him the ball, and he finished it."
Free State had 14 shots on goal in the second half, as opposed to six in the first. Pendleton said he wanted to see the Firebirds convert more of those opportunities, though. In fact, after Free State missed a shot on goal in the second half, Pendleton paced down the sideline expressing his opinion.
"We couldn't finish a Happy Meal if we hadn't eaten in a week," he said.
The second FSHS goal, which came with 13:50 left in the game, was prettier than the first. Ceesay raced to a bouncing ball in the open field and saw a crease in the Pioneer defense. On instinct, Ceesay headed the ball toward a streaking Clayton, who was about 10 feet away from the goal. Clayton made one move and pounded the ball past Leavenworth goalkeeper Michael Minchew for the score.
"What we do a lot of on this team is we take it to that tee, where the box meets the inline, but we don't look up," Clayton said. "But Ceesay made eye contact with me. A major part of that was Kyle (Ceesay) looked up. He put the ball into the space that I should be running into."
The goal had Leavenworth coach Craig Scriven at least three feet onto the field, asking permission to speak to the referee. Scriven thought Clayton pushed his defender in the back, as Free State did on Leavenworth's first goal.
"Excuse me. Can I speak to you, ref?" Scriven yelled from the sideline. "That totally changes the face of the game. Bravo."
Scriven sarcastically clapped as he paced further down the sideline.
"How could you call the same thing in the first half, but then nothing there?" he asked.
Despite Scriven's efforts, Clayon's goal remained his second of the game.
Tuesday marked Free State's second straight victory. Pendleton said his team had much more work to do and held himself accountable first.
"We look like a team that hasn't been coached in a while, and I bear the responsibility of that," Pendleton said. "I've got to do a much better job of getting my team both emotionally ready to play and leading them to the right spots. We didn't do a good job of bringing any intensity."