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Warriors are a win or tie away from winning the Metro League outright after axing the Apollos

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Aloha boys soccer players Luke Dolyniuk and Parkin Harape celebrate the go-ahead goal against Sunset.

Any reward worth having isn't handed over on a silver platter.

A Metro League championship, or at the very least one huge, penultimate step toward a rarely conquered conference crown, requires passionate fury, yet clinical cool execution, especially against a team as skilled and loaded as Sunset.

Aloha hasn't won a Metro championship in decades, though the Warriors have been annual playoff entrants and pure entertainment on the pitch. But by a brimstone-and-fire back-and-forth battle between the two worthy foes, Aloha's flashy style has turned to substance.

In an instant classic contest that saw a Sunset goal in the first 25 seconds of play, two ties and three lead changes, it was the Warriors who came out on top, thanks to a brilliant corner kick from Lazar Djurdjevic to Luke Dolyniuk with 18 minutes left that gave Aloha a 3-2 lead. The go-ahead goal, after a late flurry of Sunset chances, was the game-winner as the Warriors won 3-2 on Monday at Aloha High School.

"Feels like we made history," Aloha senior Lazar Djurdjevic said. "It's been a while since Aloha had this strong of a team. We were the underdogs, but we're ready to take over this year. This year is different. We're ready to play any competitors in front of us."

In a single season, Aloha (7-3-3 overall, 4-0-1 in Metro) has beaten Jesuit, Westview and Sunset, the three flagship programs most pencil in as the conference's upper class. If the Warriors beat Beaverton on Thursday night, they'll win the conference title outright. A draw still means Aloha will take Metro by its lonesome. A loss to the Beavers and Beaverton (3-1-1) would have the head-to-head edge. Momentum, however, is on Aloha' side as long as it can avoid the emotional letdown coming off another season-stamping success against Sunset. Often cast aside in favor of those aforementioned elites, Aloha is in the driver's seat, now it just has to finish off what's been a spectacular conference campaign.

"Winning Metro would represent Aloha well," Nikola Djurdjevic said. "Bringing the Metro back to where it's supposed to be would mean a lot to Aloha, the community and our soccer program for the following years. We love our school, we love our team and where we come from and we prove it out on the field. Just because people think down upon us doesn't mean anything."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset midfielder Kevin Gan chases after a loose ball against Aloha on Monday.

The Apollos pushed Aloha to its limits from the opening seconds of the showdown through the referee's final whistle in the 90th minute. Cole Rogers raced down the left side of the pitch and gave Sunset a 1-0 lead with a sweet finish just 24 seconds into the first half.

"We knew Sunset was a very good team and we couldn't sit back and relax," Lazar Djurdjevic said. "Just because we were first in league coming into today didn't mean anything. They could've beat us and we would've fallen out. It was all about keeping that positive mindset and staying focused on the game."

Aloha senior Oscar Cruz Solis responded by pivoting around on a bouncing loose ball and unleashing a comet that curved into the net and tied the game 1-1 with 18:15 left in the first half.

Later in the half, Aloha's Jose Vega Calva put pressure on the Apollo defense that forced Sunset to retreat and try to head the ball out of danger. The header attempt, however, went backwards off a Sunset defender. And with Sunset goalie Kellen Guillon coming out to help clear the attack, the ball fortuitously floated over the Apollo keeper and a backtracking Rogers into the cotton to give Aloha a 2-1 lead with less than nine minutes to go in the half. With the margin of difference so minuscule between the two Metro leaders, the own goal made the difference early.

"Sunset caught us on our heels," Nikola Djurdjevic said. "But when they scored, we knew we had to show up and show out. These are the kinds of games we love: suspenseful, intense, keep the crowd on their feet. We live for those moments. That's the kind of soccer we like to play. We didn't want it to be a blowout. We wanted to put on a show and play with intensity."

After Rogers created an opportunity by kicking a ball off a Warrior defender to force a corner kick, senior Justin Tierney headed home the set piece to tie it 2-2 less than three minutes into the second half. The deadlock lasted nearly 30 minutes the rest of the second half. Guillon gobbled up saves. Lazar Djurdjevic used his dynamic speed to get behind the Apollo defense. Sunset's backline made a number of spectacular stops thanks to Jacob Falk and Mason Norby who had the chore of chasing around Lazar Djurdjevic in the final third. The attacks on both sides were ample. Each team pressurized and pulled at each other with non-stop force. Bodies collided and hit the turf. Warnings and yellow cards were handed out. Even the coaches got into it on the sideline, verbally sparring with one another.

But with eight minutes to go in the match, Lazar Djurdjevic's pestering persistence paid off. The burly ball of speed and power pushed the ball at will, creating a corner kick with a deep run and left-footed shot that went off a Sunset defender out of bounds. Lazar Djurdjevic then lifted a textbook corner kick between Apollo defenders to the forehead of Dolyniuk, who did the rest, bopping home the eventual game-winner to go up 3-2.

"Before I even crossed the ball in, I had a feeling it was going in," Lazar Djurdjevic said. "We had so many chances during the match. We had so many opportunities that were so close, but we just couldn't get there on time. I knew we'd be on the right side (of a goal)."

Tierney made a scintillating run with 5:30 left, getting one on one with Nikola Djurdjevic, but the Warrior midfielder essentially boxed out the Apollo and forced an errant header attempt. Two minutes later Aloha goalie Francisco Vargas made a huge save after a great run by Sunset's Kevin Gan. And Nikola Djurdjevic blocked the ensuing attack attempt, putting his body in front of an Apollo blaze that bounced off his back and out of bounds.

"As a defender, that's your job, you have to protect the goal," Nikola Djurdjevic said. "Even if the ball is a yard away (from the goal), you're there stopping it from going in the net. You do whatever you have to do to prevent that goal from happening."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Aloha boys soccer players Jose Vega Calva and David Castanon celebrate a big goal against Sunset.

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