Robb, Sunset boys soccer erupt, take down West Salem
Step" is one of the more common refrains on the soccer field, a verbal barking often dished out by a frantic ball-carrying goalie waving his arm like an overburdened TSA agent or an exasperated coach trying to compel his team down the pitch.
Both coach and keeper want the same thing when "Step" is the verbal cue. In no certain terms, it's "Let's go, get down the dang field, so we can get the defense on its heels". It's a wakeup call for some, a smelling salt to the senses.
The Sunset boys soccer team needs no such reminder. The Apollos live by "Step". It is their sustenance, not just after a save, but when the ball is in their possession and they push, push, push the ball at the opponent until the foe says "uncle". There is nothing shy about Sunset's style.
When West Salem erased Sunset's 2-0 halftime lead with 20 minutes left of its non-league match and tied it 2-2, there was no pause for the Apollos. Sunset senior midfielder Ellis Harwood buried an incredible free-kick goal into the right corner of the goal to go up 3-2. Fifty seconds later, senior forward Julian Thuillier picked the pocket of West Salem's keeper, who got too cute trying to clear the ball and ended up getting pilfered clean by Thuillier who wasted no time in hammering home the open goal to go up 4-2 and clinch the Apollo victory on Sep. 23 at Sunset High School.
"The energy we have as a team makes us come alive," Harwood said. "When we all yell, we get our energy up. That's how we keep our momentum and keep going and getting our goals."
Thuillier's game-clinching score was the third of its kind for the senior forward who's known to fluster goalies with his speed and precision. The senior forward runs at the ball and through it, if he can get a foot on it. The Apollo captain already has eight goals in seven games, but he wasn't alone in his scoring exploits against West Salem. Senior midfielder Ian Robb scored twice in the first half, once on his own, the other off a sweet feed from Thuillier.
After dancing through a thicket of frozen Titans to get a shot on a goal that was gloved, Robb went right back to the well on the offensive play, slashing through West Salem's backline and ripping a lefty bullet into the net to go up 1-0.
"That's something I've been practicing, so it's good to do it in a game," Robb said.
On the second score, Thuillier schooled a hapless defender by hesitating with just a foot or so from the end line, kicked the ball around the Titan, ran around the bewildered bystander, attracted two defenders near the right post, and dished to a wide-open Robb, who scissor kicked home the highlight reel assist to go up 2-0 in the 29th minute.
"It's a team effort, I wouldn't be able to do that without Julian," Robb said.
"That was a 'sweaty' goal," Harwood said with a smile.
Harwood's first free-kick of the season was on point. Both he and Thuillier saw a crack in the right corner of the goal with a shoddy Titan wall in front of them. All eyes went to Thuillier as he ran in front of Harwood, who approached the ball and cashed it to the right side.
"When you see a bad wall, you can decimate it by knowing soccer, basically," Harwood said. "If the wall is off, you take advantage of it."
Sunset only has four returners back from last year, but that's been a theme not just in the Metro League but at the state level at-large. Teams are revamping and rebuilding, even the Class 6A juggernauts. The Apollos are 5-1-1 in non-league play with a tough, hot, cramp-filled loss to Liberty, a former Metro counterpart who some consider one of the many possible state title favorites. Sunset will be tried and assessed when it travels to Summit this week to take on a Storm squad that reached the 6A state title game a year ago and lost in penalty kicks to Jesuit. But already the Apollos are finding an early-season rhythm, one brought about by that frantic pace of play, solid team chemistry, and talents like Thuillier who will be in the running for Metro Player of the Year by the time this season is complete.
"Our team is starting to click so well, so early," Harwood said. "With more team bonding and practicing, the potential is awesome and really high. We've stopped dribbling individually and once we look for those little three-yard passes back-and-forth and get that composure, then we're golden."
"We're only going to get better," Robb said. "It's good to play Summit at this point in the season when we're really starting to get going. We have so much individual talent. Anyone of these guys can take somebody and finish. There are just so many options that when we start connecting there isn't much the other teams can do."
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