Charlie Newsome chipped the ball past the keeper and watched it bounce toward an open net. It was a familiar feeling.
The senior midfielder had scored twice in Free State’s last match — a win — and three more times over the two preceding it — one win and one draw. Why would this shot be any different?
“I thought it was going in,” Newsome affirmed following Free State’s 2-1 loss to Shawnee Mission West on Tuesday at home. “I thought it was going in. For sure.”
As it turned out, the best defense for the dominating senior was a little backspin.
Already past the keeper, the ball hit the ground for the first time and slowed. A Vikings defender tracked after it but had to be careful not to knock it into the net himself.
“When we saw the backspin on the ball we knew it was going to die a little bit,” said Free State coach Kelly Barah. "We were hoping by miracle maybe a defender tripped or anything.”
Such divine intervention did not occur.
The defender cleared the ball, preserving what was at the time a scoreless draw that couldn’t have been any less indicative of the way the teams had played.
In the first half, it was all Shawnee Mission West (7-5). The Vikings outshot the Firebirds 15-3 and lived in the attacking third, totaling seven corner kicks to none for Free State.
“It’s the first game of the season that we’ve really come out that flat,” Barah said.
Perhaps feeling the effects of playing a match against Shawnee Heights the day before, the Firebirds shook off some of that insipidness as the second half began.
They came up with four real chances in the ensuing five minutes, first on Newsome’s chip and a free kick that followed and then again as Ashton Owen launched a pair of shots from point blank.
Even after the Vikings scored in the 47th minute — senior Spencer Taylor hit a low shot into the net on a counterattack — Free State responded, and in a big way.
“Darik (Dudley) made a good run and I found him,” Newsome said. “He put it in the back of the net, and that’s all we can ask him to do.”
As he recalled, Newsome received a pass from Maksim Smith and turned with the ball, threading a pass to Dudley for the goal.
The chances kept coming, as Peter Boncella started a break that nearly led to a goal from Ethan Goldstein, but the decisive strike never came, at least from the home side.
In the 60th minute, with the match still tied, Taylor gained possession and hit a shot past the reach of Free State goalkeeper Thomas White. Free State would rally until the final minute, frantically stringing together a pair of chances as the final seconds ticked off, but the buzzer would sound before they could attempt a final corner kick, ending the match and dropping them to 5-4-2 on the year.
“We just need to shake it off,” Barah said. "We were able to do that in the second half, so we’ll start the match on Thursday that way.”