If the Steamboat Springs boys soccer team wants to claim the Western Slope title this year, the team will need to escape the "cage" with a victory.
The cage is a narrow, rough field surrounded by a chain-link fence that sits just five to seven yards off the outer edge of the playing surface. It is the home of the Rifle Bears -- the other team hoping to collect the Western Slope title in 2003.
The Bears and Sailors are tied at the top of the Western Slope standings with identical 7-1 records. But today's game in Rifle will give one of the two a decided advantage headed into the final three games of the regular season.
"We need to play our game, but on their field," Steamboat senior Devin Borvansky said. "It's going to be hard to do because it's a skinny field and it's a lot more compact. We will need to be a lot quicker."
In their first meeting Sept. 16, the Bears looked flat as Steamboat capitalized on big scoring chances en route to a 5-3 win. However, Steamboat coaches and players are expecting today's game to be different.
"We beat them here, but we didn't play our 'A' game, and I definitely don't believe that they played their 'A' game," Borvansky said. "It's going to be different this time around."
Rifle coach Tom Taucher said he was happy with his players' goal production in Steamboat, but said the Bears gave up too many chances.
"We have to minimize their chances if we want to beat a team like Steamboat," Taucher said. "We may have been a little flat in the first game, but Steamboat had a lot to do with that."
Coach Rob Bohlmann compared today's game to the playoffs and expects the outcome to determine the final league standings.
"This game could determine the league championship," Bohlmann said.
Taucher, however, downplayed the importance of the game, saying it's too early to worry about league titles or the playoffs.
"Is this the biggest game we've played in this year? Yeah, at least until our next game," Taucher said.
Steamboat has won its past seven league games and is coming off an emotional 6-2 win over Moffat County on Tuesday. Moffat County is the only team that has beaten Steamboat this season.
The Bears have strung together wins over Battle Mountain, Moffat County, Glenwood Springs, Delta and Palisade since losing to the Sailors.