Lawrence High’s boys soccer players know they’re having a more successful season than their crosstown rivals at Free State.
The Lions (8-4-1) know the Firebirds (6-7) have lost three straight games and that they’ve been shut out in two of those.
And they know that all of that will mean absolutely nothing when FSHS comes to LHS at 7 tonight for the city showdown.
Lawrence coach Mike Murphy reminded his team that in 2010 the Lions were winless and unheralded going into that season’s rivalry game with FSHS, and the Firebirds had finished as Class 6A’s runner-up the season before.
That game ended in a scoreless tie after two overtimes.
“If we were heavy underdogs, and we were able to battle,” Murphy said, “that shows you what a rivalry game’s all about.”
That message, LHS senior forward Luke Matthews said, has resonated.
“I’m sure they’ve made progress this season,” Matthews said of the Firebirds, “so we’ll just have to test how good they are, and we’re expecting them to be solid.”
With players from both sides familiar with the ones they will be lining up against, Matthews said it will be interesting to see how each team deals with the other.
While LHS has speedy, aggressive goal-scorers in seniors Robert Lyan and Justin Riley, FSHS is known for its patience and steady midfield play.
Firebirds coach Kelly Barah said the teams are similar, though, in their desire to maintain possession.
“If it’s two teams who want to keep the ball, then who is gonna give it away to the other team is going to be the key,” Barah said. “We’re going to see if we can get some turnovers and do what we want to do with the ball.”
FSHS senior midfielder Evan Smith said the Lions, who have won three of their last four games, work well as a unit and are capable of executing some “pretty crazy” passes. In order to win, Smith said the Firebirds must pass well themselves and find a way to negate Lawrence’s speed.
“We’ve been playing good soccer, playing the way we want to,” Smith said. “If we can carry it over to (tonight) and finish the opportunities we get, I think we can come out on top.”
Barah said the only thing that has discouraged his team in its three-game skid has been the scoring margin (an 8-2 advantage for Free State opponents).
“We have been excited about how we’ve played against all these teams, and you can only be unlucky like this for so long,” Barah said. “Eventually, we will be turning it around. It might be now or the next game, but we know we’re due for some really good goals.”
Murphy said LHS has specialized in playing smart, disciplined soccer and that can’t change with the emotions of the city showdown.
“We need to channel the adrenaline into our feet and keep our minds clear,” he said.