The Early Lead: A soccer story
By BRANDON HURLEY
How have they done it?
How has the Greene County boys’ soccer team continued to defy even the wildest of expectations?
Perhaps rolling out the state’s leading goal scorer and the third-rated offense across all classes is a good jumping off point.
Maybe a season-opening four game win-streak and the program’s first-ever could key us in on an answer.
Certainly, no one outside of the program predicted the Rams would be sitting pretty at 6-1, ranked 15th in the state – which they only needed two weeks to achieve.
Just let that marinate for a bit, it only took a newly formed program three games into their inaugural season to earn statewide respectability.
It’s a testament to one of the most potent offensive attacks in the state, including back-to-back 10 goal mercy rule wins, including a third mercy rule triumph in a 10-0 victory over Panorama last night (Thursday, April 19).
It’s been a storybook start, and the hits keep on rolling.
We can say with confidence the bar will be set pretty high in the Greene County record books when this season is all said and done.
Where they will end up is the real question.
Heck, 1A’s leading scorer, Leo Marques needed only three games to crack the double-digit goal mark. He’s certainly going to set a single-season record that’s tough to reach when it’s all said and done. As of Friday morning, April 20, he was tops in all of 1A with 17 goals and third across all classes, thanks to his school-record breaking six goals in the win over Panorama. He’s twice scored five or more in a single game and has scored at least two goals in five of the Rams’ seven games.
This team, as a whole, already is well on their way to setting a mark that’s hard to attain. They’ve scored a remarkable 39 goals in seven games, which was the third best mark in the state, across all classes – a sparkling 5.5 goals per game average.
The Rams captured their first road win in their initial trip away from home against Nodaway Valley (a 10-0 win in 47 minutes, to be exact) and secured their first mercy rule victory a few days prior against Carroll.
Kyle Peters needed only three games to secure back-to-back shutouts. The goalkeeper has held opponents scoreless for 158 consecutive minutes entering Friday's contest with Kuemper, only allowing nine goals all season in addition to four shutouts.
It’s been a tremendous start, but what is the secret?
Perhaps it’s the strong – and fairly surprising – cohesiveness throughout the first-year lineup. The ball-handling is unmatched, and so is the intelligence. They know when to get the ball up field and when to attack. And attack often they do.
Greene County head coach Carl Behne has taken notice, and was especially pleased following last night’s commanding victory. The team continues to trend skyward.
“Great Ram, victory tonight. By far our best overall played match,” the coach said. “Total team victory and great play back to front in the lineup.”
Though the Rams lost their first game in school history Monday, 6-0 to 2A No. 16 Harlan, they’ve bounced back in a big way, outscoring their next two opponents, 13-0, including a 3-0 victory over West Central Valley the following night.
“Best part is we started to really share the ball well all over the field and communicated much better,” Behne said.
It’s been a tremendous start, but what is the secret?
Perhaps it’s the Rams experience paired against high caliber talent.
International soccer, with its vast array of stars, has set up guys like Marques, Junior Gutierrez and Luis Tuesta for success. They cut their teeth playing in Brazil and Honduras.
“In Brazil, there are good guys everywhere. There are very good teams,” Marques said. “It’s so hard. People told me ‘You’re going to be a pro in Brazil.’ I said no, it’s impossible. In Brazil, you can find very good guys, much better than me.”
Marques spent much of his youth playing indoor soccer. It’s where he honed his skills as a ball-handler and gained his knack for outmaneuvering opponents. He’s already tallied three multi-goal games – in his first three varsity contests – vaulting him to the top of the state. As of Tuesday, April 17, he was second in Iowa with 11 goals through five games, despite not scoring once in the last two games.
The comparisons to high school soccer and the indoor game are thin, but it’s allowed him to become an even greater player, Marques said.
“It’s so different. So different than outdoor soccer,” he said. “I like to talk a lot in the field. I like to pay attention to the whole field. Indoor soccer is a fast game. Pass, pass, talk, play hard.”
Gutierrez is the unsung hero for the Rams and is a magician with the ball. Though he didn’t score against Ballard (a 2-1, grind-it-out victory), he was the clear cut MVP, slicing through the defense to rip off shots on goal, navigating through traps and finding the open man with delicate footwork. He’s also the go-to free-kick guy, sending the season-opener into overtime with a late penalty kick.
A pair of Greene County mainstays have also been key. Austin Delp provides some power and grittiness in the midfield, out-muscling opponents while Isaiah Losee has been the epitome of the clean up guy, punching home a handful of rebound goals while getting the Rams out of jams with exceptional through balls.
Peters, in his first year in goal, has performed admirably, not shying from contact, punching high-flying shots from the air and sliding into defenders. While he doesn’t typically see much action, he’s been the backbone of a seldom tested defense.
Through four games, the Rams had given up just four goals, including a shutout streak that reached 180 minutes across three matches before it was snapped against Ballard. Harlan, Monday’s opponent, skewed those numbers by tallying six goals in a 6-0 shutout at home, but it’s still quite impressive.
The next two weeks will be an important stretch for the upstart Rams, as they square off against a pair of top five teams and a traditional power.
Kuemper welcomes Greene County to town Friday while the Rams head to Class 1A No. 3 Gilbert Tuesday, April 24 before closing out the stretch with back-to-back ranked foes, Class 2A No. 4 Perry April 27 at home and eighth-ranked Des Moines Christian (1A) the following day.
That caps a week with three straight ranked opponents. If Greene County can somehow snatch a pair of victories or even one, that will say quite a bit about what they have on their hands.