Dirks Field has its advantages.
Playing a West Texas A&M team at 6,861 feet above sea level gave the Fort Lewis College men’s soccer team an edge in the Skyhawks’ 2-0 win Friday in their home opener.
FLC (1-2) knew it could tire out the Buffs by making them exert early and often, so they did.
“Our aim was to let them run. They’re not comfortable with the altitude, so we wanted to keep calm and let the ball roll the first half,” FLC freshman Laurin Weiland said. “And in the second half, attack.”
FLC sophomore defender Alex Tillberry was the first beneficiary.
He scored his first goal of the season in the 80th minute on an assist from Raul Pescador in the box.
The ball deflected slightly off a West Texas A&M defender’s foot and slid to keeper Patrick Satorie’s right in the corner.
“Feel sorry for our guys on the first goal. We worked really hard, and if the ball doesn’t take a touch it rolls to the keeper, easy,” said West Texas A&M head coach Butch Lauffer said. “It’s a cruel game sometimes.”
The Buffs’ defense had no chance at stopping the Skyhawks’ second goal.
Weiland cut across their entire defense, moving left to right, and cut his shot into the top-left corner to put FLC up 2-0 in the 84th minute.
“We said if the first goal falls they’ll break and we’ll have the space,” he said. “I had so much space.”
The zero at the end of the scoreline may have meant more to FLC than the two at the front.
It was FLC’s first clean sheet of the year.
“I want them to feel ownership of the result throughout the whole 90 minutes. I think it’s important,” said FLC head coach Oige Kennedy. “It breeds confidence when you’re not conceding at home.”
The Skyhawks kept West Texas A&M off the board with a very young defense.
No member of FLC’s back three is an upperclassmen, and freshman Elliot Chadderton made his first career start in goal in place of senior Ryan Schaul, who missed the game with a red card suspension.
“Him being back there didn’t change how we played,” said FLC redshirt freshman defender Coleman Kane. “Especially considering how young we are, this is all three of us our first home game at Dirks, so it’s a huge deal to get our first clean sheet against a good side in front of a good crowd.”
The Skyhawks will have to lean on Chadderton again in their next game at 1 p.m. Sunday against St. Mary’s because Schaul will serve the second game of his two-game suspension.
“He’s done great through preseason, and it’s been close between him and Schaul as to who would start,” Kennedy said of Chadderton. “His distribution was excellent. A couple things on crosses we’d like to see him improve, but overall I thought he did really well. His leadership and vocal communication helped our back four.”
Chadderton made three saves in the game, but FLC generated a majority of the chances with 18 shots to West Texas A&M’s four.
With a win under their belts, the Skyhawks can continue to gel and improve as a young team.
“In my mind-set we’ve felt we’d be a different team as the season progressed,” Kennedy said. “They are young guys, but they’re all very talented. There’s no excuse not to be successful.”