Visiting teams call Rifle High School's soccer field the "cage" because of its close fences.
The field has never been well-liked by the Steamboat Springs soccer team, and Rifle's come-from-behind win Thursday evening did nothing to change the Sailors' opinion.
Bears forward Ryan Melody's winning goal with 3 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in regulation just might be the lock to Rifle's (9-2 overall, 8-1 in league) bagging the Western Slope League championship. With three league games remaining for both teams, it's premature for Rifle to celebrate winning the league title.
The win does give the Bears a one-game lead over the Sailors in the standings, however, and, as an extra dig, likely will knock Steamboat (10-2, 7-2) out of next week's state Class 4A boys soccer poll.
With first place on the line, the Bears and Sailors played Thursday's game at a playoff pace.
Both teams tried to take control offensively early. Rifle's Paul Knipping just missed tucking a shot inside the lower left post in the 9th minute. But, an alert Mike Ritter followed up the play and gave the Bears a 1-0 lead 43 seconds later by blasting a shot to the open far side of the Sailor goal.
The lead vanished two minutes later when Steamboat's Harry Packer worked his way deep inside Rifle's penalty area and redirected a cross to the far post for a 1-all tie in the 13th minute. The senior forward gave the Sailors the lead on his second goal of the game when he ripped a shot by Rifle goalie Roman Tencza to the net's far corner with 8:22 left in the second half.
"We were a little disappointed," Melody said on losing the lead. "The goal helped us kick into gear. It motivated us more because we knew we had to win."
"In the second half, we had counted four or five legitimate chances we missed outright," Rifle coach Tom Taucher said. "So, we knew the chances were coming. It was just a matter of us finishing them. We got two more chances, and we buried them."
After missing twice earlier in the second half, Dylan Menu finally beat Steamboat goalie Andy Comeau. The sophomore's goal to the far post with 5:53 remaining pulled the Bears to a 2-2 tie.
About two minutes later, Melody scored the winner. Hustling down to the left corner, the Rifle freshman whirled a shot toward the far side of the Steamboat goal.
"I was just hoping to put a hard shot on goal and have it ricochet off and (have) somebody follow the shot," Melody said. "I never expected it to go in."
Neither did Comeau, who had moved toward the near post. Instead, the ball went spinning past the surprised keeper, who watched the ball settle inside the cords of the far corner.
"This win shows this team has a lot of potential and a lot of great talent and that we're not a 'so-so' team and (have) real potential to take home the league championship," Melody added.
"Rifle did a very nice job of taking us out of our game," Steamboat coach Rob Bohlmann said. "Defensively they were pressing and squeezing us well, and we had trouble adjusting to that." Bohlmann said the field did create problems for the Sailors, too.
"It's much more difficult to play on a tight field like this. It definitely had an effect, but the sign of a good team is one that can be versatile and learn to deal with different playing environments. We just didn't get the job done today."