Mere minutes into Thursday’s game against Shawnee Mission West, Free State senior Diego Gonzalez streaked toward the goal. He split two defenders, dribbled toward the goal and blasted the ball into the bottom-left corner of the net.
The only problem? The goal was disallowed; Gonzalez was ruled offsides.
The back of the net again proved elusive for the Free State soccer team, as it fell, 2-1, against SM West on Thursday at FSHS.
“It’s just such an empty feeling,” senior keeper Elliott Johnson said.
Free State coach Kelly Barah was equally disappointed, though still proud of the way his team performed.
“I love the kind of soccer we’re playing right now,” Barah said. “We just need to generate goals.”
There were plenty of chances.
Moments after the offsides call, a penalty on the Vikings (4-5-1) gave Gonzalez a free kick, which appeared to be headed into the goal — but keeper Josh Strasser made a diving stop.
The scoring opportunities continued to pile up for Free State, which used its superior ball control to dominate the first half.
“We pride ourselves on beating people to spots, winning possession and trying to keep it, so we can do a little more from there,” Barah said.
The Firebirds (3-5-1) appeared to execute flawlessly, only their drives toward goal either went just wide or were swatted away by Strasser.
Corner kicks were well placed, but headers on net were steered away. Gonzalez nearly scored again on a free kick from just outside the goal box, only to be stifled by a sprawling Strasser.
The Firebirds might have controlled the flow of the first half, but only three minutes into the second half, Viking sophomore Kevin Baynham ripped one past Johnson for the 1-0 edge — which completely changed the pace of the game.
“It does take the air out of the balloon a lot of times when you’re able to dominate possession and not finish, and then give one back early in the second half,” Barah said.
The Firebirds were able to respond and tie the game when senior Preston Newsome rifled a free kick into the top-right corner of the net.
But Free State couldn’t regain its meticulous, controlling first-half pace, and SM West’s J.J. Higgins tapped in a loose ball off of a corner kick to pull ahead again, 2-1.
The second Viking goal, which came late in the second half, sent the Firebirds into a frenzy to net the equalizer.
“It did force our hand to do some things differently than we would do normally,” Barah said. “We were definitely trying to find the seams and gaps between defenders in the first half, but after giving up that second goal we had to go a little bit more direct.”
As the minutes, then seconds wound down, the Firebirds’ desperation was evident — but was to no avail.
Johnson said all of the close, one-goal losses this season have been tough to stomach, but expressed faith that the team can pull through.
“We just need to finish. Finish our goals, finish our chances — just keep playing our hearts out, just keep playing how we play,” he said.