DES MOINES — Johnston carried the No. 1 seed and top ranking into Friday’s Class 3A state boys’ soccer tournament semifinal against upset-minded Linn-Mar.
And the Dragons left the Cownie Soccer Park pitch with those accolades intact, but not without being pushed to the brink by the upstart Lions, who lost 1-0, despite staging numerous scoring chances in the final 10 minutes.
“I’m just really sad for the seniors,” said Linn-Mar freshman Leroy Enzugusi, who broke free for a possible equalizer with 18:30 left but was knocked to the ground with no foul call forthcoming. “I wanted to do it for them. We just should have capitalized.”
Johnston (21-0) scored its goal with 35:53 left on a free kick from Pete Lashier. Lions keeper Jared Belin nearly made the save, but the ball caromed off a pack of players on both sides and somehow found the back of the net.
“There was so much traffic in there,” Linn-Mar Coach Corey Brinkmeyer, said. “I think one thing led to another.”
The Lions’ aggressiveness led to cheer-raising opportunities in the extended waning moments, but forcing extra time proved impossible.
Junior forward Daniel Luzindya nearly placed a high-arcing bicycle kick into the net.
Sophomore Devin Eby almost connected on a rebound effort with about six minutes to play.
“I think everyone on the field definitely wanted it,” said junior Ben Johnson, who narrowly missed chasing down a pass in prime scoring territory late before a Johnston player knocked it away. “It was just a matter of no one was in the right place at the right time and every time it seemed they would just get a foot on it and get it out of there.”
Perhaps the Lions’ best opportunity came when Enzugusi chased down a ball in the box and was taken down by a defender on that controversial play at the 18:30 mark.
Brinkmeyer said Dragons Coach Heath Weeks acknowledged after the match it appeared a penalty was committed, but Brinkmeyer didn’t dwell on the no-call.
“I did enough questioning,” he said. “(The official) said it wasn’t a foul. You have to respect that decision, I guess.”
Enzugusi echoed his coach’s sentiments — and vowed to give his all again for the Lions’ six seniors in today’s 4:10 p.m. consolation match against Cedar Rapids Washington.
“We’re not coming down here for nothing,” he said. “We’ve got to get something. Third is the next big thing, so that’s what we’re getting.”
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