STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
For the first time in more than a decade, the Fort Lewis College men’s soccer team lost back-to-back games at Dirks Field.
The Skyhawks gave up two second-half goals to Colorado Mesa on Wednesday afternoon while scoring none of their own to couple a second home defeat with their 3-2 loss to UC-Colorado Springs on Sept. 23.
The last time the two-time national championship side lost two in a row at Dirks Field was Sept. 13-15, 2002, when it lost 4-2 to Colorado Christian and 4-3 to Colorado School of Mines.
Saddled with the Mavericks’ first-ever victory over the Skyhawks, FLC now has lost three of its last four games.
“Too many people on the day didn’t show up, didn’t compete or perform,” FLC head coach Oige Kennedy said.
The Skyhawks managed only one shot on goal in 90 minutes as they floundered in the Mavericks’ defensive third, failing to make inroads against their opponent’s stalwart back line.
FLC passes frequently found Mavericks’ bodies instead of Skyhawks’ feet, and the defending Division II national champions only got a couple of quality scoring chances throughout play, working too much as individuals instead of as “a family,” redshirt freshmen Trevor Gibbons said.
“The way we play, you all have to be 100-percent playing ... 100-percent focused,” Gibbons said.
The Skyhawks’ struggles only intensified less than three minutes into the second half, when a parabolic lob pass from Michael Bagheri found Marco Escobar’s chest in front of the FLC goal.
Uncontested, Escobar dropped the ball to his feet, turned around and punched the ball past sprawling keeper Ryan Schaul into the far left corner.
Kennedy said his team has talked a lot about not pressing too far up to prevent those types of open looks.
“We keep having a problem stepping off our man,” Gibbons said.
“Unfortunately it’s not the first time we’ve made that mistake this season,” Kennedy said.
With more than 40 minutes to even the score, FLC took control of the possession game, but confident in their lead, the Mavericks’ defenders collapsed even farther back into their own penalty box, further eliminating the Skyhawks’ passing lanes.
Although the Skyhawks’ midfielders kept the ball on their feet for much of the second half, Colorado Mesa quickly turned back most attempts to push the attack forward.
The Skyhawks had their best look with in the 60th minute on a corner kick that sailed into a cluster of diving FLC attackers in the goal box. The ball found a head but rebounded just wide of the left post.
“A lot of possession but really no end product that we were trying to create,” Kennedy said. Every attack, he said, should result in a strong cross or through ball.
“We just need to get better at creating those final chances.”
The only other solid scoring chances came late in the first half: First on a deep blast from Alberto Capdepon that cut just wide of the top right corner and Colorado Mesa keeper Micah Conrads’ outstretched arm; the second on a flurry of end-of-first-frame action culminating in Yannis Becker’s goal-line collision with Conrads.
The Skyhawks’ midfielder tried to finish a volleyed deflection, crashed into the keeper and tallied the Skyhawks’ lone shot on goal. Conrads, a Montezuma-Cortez High School alumnus, came up with the save as the ball landed on his chest after he landed on his back.
Both goalkeepers made one save Wednesday; the Skyhawks outshot the Mavericks 9-7.
But as the minutes wore on in the second half, the more frenetic FLC attack also left its backfield vulnerable to Colorado Mesa’s fast forwards, especially after Kennedy pulled a defender in favor of a three-forward, four-midfielder set.
And after a handful of earlier fast-break opportunities against the outnumbered Skyhawks’ defense, the Mavericks made the Skyhawks pay.
Falling backward, Schaul stopped Nestor Escobar’s break in the 82nd minute, but in the 85th Escobar played a long ball to Brandon Burton, who slipped the ball past a charging Schaul and into the far corner.
Two-nil, Colorado Mesa.
The Mavericks improved to 1-10-1 all-time against FLC with the victory, while the Skyhawks fell to 1-2-1 this year on its home pitch.
FLC (6-4-1, 3-3-1 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) will try and right the ship against Adams State – its lone Dirks Field victory this year – at 3:30 p.m. Sunday in Alamosa.
With a young team he described as “always ... in transition” this year, Kennedy said the goal is to finish out the final third of the season stronger than it started.
“The only thing we can do is improve, but the improving needs to start now,” Gibbons said.