West Linn had more chances to score than the Cavaliers, but couldn't get anything past sophomore goalkeeper Hunter Johnson

REVIEW/NEWS PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - Clackamas' Tyler Nguyen (13) maneuvers around West Linn's Marco Kreske during the second half of Thursday's non-conference boys' soccer game at West Linn High School.As the Clackamas boys' soccer team gathered on the field after playing West Linn to a 0-0 draw Thursday night, Cavaliers coach Brian Buttler praised his players for their determination and effort.

But something was missing.

"We can only win if we what?" Buttler asked. "Score. We have to score.

"What I was encouraged by was that we had legitimate offensive attacks. We didn't put the ball in the net, but there were some that should have gone in. Same goes for West Linn, though. More than us."

The Lions had a 10-4 advantage in shots on goal and had 10 corner kicks to Clackamas' two, but struggled to put the ball away.

"I was hoping for a little different result," West Linn coach Travis Roth said. "I thought we had done enough to get it, but sometimes the ball doesn't bounce the way you want it to."

Neither team had been outside Monday, having been forced indoors by the poor air quality that hung over the region as a result of smoke from the Eagle Creek Fire, which may have also contributed to both sides playing flat at times.

The difference in the match were the two goalkeepers -- Clackamas sophomore Hunter Johnson and West Linn junior Eli Wall.

Johnson made a diving save on a shot by West Linn's Sean Beuckens in the 36th minute, and then turned back another Beuckens blast from the top of the six in the 72nd minute.

"Without Hunter, we probably would have lost tonight," Buttler said.

Wall's biggest test came in the 66th minute when he charged from the goal and smothered a ball a split second before Clackamas senior forward Jack Kelly could put his foot on it.

"I think we played pretty well," Kelly said. "We fought and we played defense pretty well. Offensively, I know I missed a few chances, but we were creating chances, which was good.

"It's not the result we wanted, but we definitely fought our tails off out there and I feel it could have gone either way."

Even though it wasn't a win, Kelly saw it as a step in the right direction, especially compared to last season's 5-1 loss to West Linn in the first round of the 6A playoffs.

"Last year, we got killed in the playoffs," Kelly said. "That's a big leap, going from 5-1 to 0-0 and having the opportunities we had to score and win."

Buttler agreed.

"It's only the second game," he said. "I thought there was some really good stuff, but too little of it. At times, there were some great connections, but we got stretched way to far in the midfield, which I think is basically a chemistry thing."

And by "chemistry," Buttler means it's still early in the season and the players are still getting a feel for how they work with one another.

The Cavaliers return only six players from last season's team, and of those six, only three -- center midfielder Gabe Cortes-Puente, center back Trevor Putnam, and forward Caleb Simmons -- were regular starters. Almost everyone else is seeing action at the varsity level for the first time.

"Overall, I'm happy," Buttler said. "To walk away and not lose to West Linn this early in the season and with limited training, I think there was a little luck involved, to be truthful.

"But I think it's a step in the right direction in that we have a bunch of young kids starting who have never played varsity soccer and they weren't shy. I mean, that was a lot of pressure they were under tonight and they could have collapsed. To hold it together emotionally the way they did showed me something."

Buttler's hope going into the season was these non-conference games were serve as stepping stones to the Mt. Hood Conference opener on Sept. 27 against defending league champion Central Catholic.

"We have a heavy non-conference schedule with Woodburn, West Linn, Lakeridge … and we really don't have a day off," Buttler said. "What I hope is we get some good learning experiences from our non-conference match-ups.

"Win-loss record for me, right now, is not first and foremost on my ming. It's more about development so that we're solid for the start of league play, and then let's give it our best shot."

The Cavaliers (0-1-1) return home for games Tuesday against defending 6A state champion Lakeridge at 7 p.m. and Thursday against Wilson at 7:30 p.m.

"I hate that word 'rebuilding,' because you're always rebuilding," Buttler said. "But it is one of those years that I can't say, 'Oh, yeah, we're going to be good here, and good here, and this is going to be our bread and butter.' I just don't know yet."

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