Most regular-season games dont have this much fire and competitiveness.
Then again, not all games have as much talent on display as the Fort Lewis College mens soccer alumni game.
The 4-3 exhibition victory by the 2010 Skyhawks over the alumni Saturday was equal parts a showcase of the future and a glance at what the program has become since the mid-1990s.
Just about every player on the pitch for both teams played on a team that played in or won a national championship game for an institution thats quickly become one of the standard bearers for Division II soccer excellence.
Preseason Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year Jamie Cunningham, unanimous preseason All-RMAC selection Kyle Wood and defensive stalwart Fabian Kling squared off against blasts from the recent past such as John Cunliffe, the most decorated player in school history and former Major League Soccer player, and former 09 championship teammates David Barden and Euan Purcell, who know a thing or two about finding the back of the net.
Abdel Becerra, Thomas Hoang, Byron Cephers and 2010s best offensive threats took aim at Tom Donley, a former All-American who backstopped the 2006 squad to a runner-up finish and was the backup keeper for the 2005 national title team.
In other words, not only was it a stiff test that the newest incarnation of the Skyhawks passed, it also was a look at an impressive group they can join with another title this year.
I dont think theres another program in the country Division I or Division II that can boast the alumni we have, second-year head coach Oige Kennedy said.
Not that the long list of accolades accrued by the alumni team intimidated captain Keane Hamilton and his mates. As the game grew longer, it grew equally chippier, with Hamilton one of the Skyhawks leading the charge both physically and verbally.
It was pretty hot, he said. Its fun because we all know each other, and were all really competitive with each other.
Tom Settle, the leading assist-getter in 2009, enjoyed getting a competitive run in against his old teammates. Even more enjoyable were the two goals he scored for the alums, one on a free kick and another on a penalty kick accrued when Cunliffe was taken down in the penalty area after freeing himself with a nifty spin move. He narrowly missed tying the game with 11 seconds left when his volley was deflected just enough to send it over the crossbar.
It was so fun to play against the boys, said Settle, who won a championship last year for the blue and gold in Tampa. It was still fun playing a competitive match against my old teammates.
It was getting a bit chippy, people were getting mouthy, and there were some late tackles. But thats all part of the game, isnt it?
As for the offense, it would be fair to expect a slight dropoff after the losses of Barden, Purcell and Settle, who also had an assist for the alumni. But Hamilton previously had said that balanced scoring would carry the day in 2010, and Saturdays tilt seemed to bear out the captains hypothesis.
Four different Skyhawks scored, and they did so in a variety of ways.
Kling opened the scoring with a smoothly placed free kick from the top of the penalty area in the 26th minute.
Hoang gave the new breed a 2-nil lead thanks to a nifty sliding pass from Byron Cephers, whose ball found a wide open Hoang for a sliding goal.
After Settle tallied twice, Becerra broke the tie in the 66th minute after a Hoang steal. Hoang danced into the penalty area with his dribble before sliding a pass to Becerra, who tucked the ball past Donley neatly into the lower right-hand corner from 6 feet out.
Lastly, freshman Jordan Alexander, an English product and late substitution, streaked down the left side then flicked a ball over a hard-charging Donley into a gaping net.
Brian Eisenbraun cut the undergraduates lead to one with a beautiful header past varsity keeper and Bayfield High School alumnnus Ryan Wirth from a Settle cross in the 84th minute.
The spreading of the wealth offensively was exactly what Hamilton hoped to see, and it especially was encouraging considering the absence of striker Joe Barnd, the teams top returning goal scorer.
I was very happy with it, Hamilton said. It was a very good sign, expecially Jordan (Alexander) coming off the bench. He didnt get many minutes, but one chance, and he got his shot.
The performance left Settle impressed as well.
All the goals they gave up were on set pieces. If they can cut that out of their game, theyre going to be comfortable, he said.
In the end, after a hotly contested affair with its fair share of rough-and-tumble play and plenty of chirping so much so that Barden had to encourage players to shut up and calm down the old guard shook hands with the new as all headed their separate ways.
Consider it a strong first step for the next group hoping to cement themselves as champions.
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