Steamboat Springs Battle Mountain coach Dave Cope wouldn't be surprised if the outcome of this year's Western Slope League was decided by a single goal in tonight's game against Steamboat Springs.
If the Battle Mountain Huskies can defeat the Steamboat Springs Sailors in tonight's Western Slope clash, his team will have the inside track at claiming this year's regular season league title. But if Steamboat can muster a road win, or come away with a tie, the advantage will shift to the Sailors. It also could keep Eagle Valley's and Glenwood Springs' hopes for a title alive for a few more days.
"It's a pretty big deal," Sailors coach Rob Bohlmann said about today's game in Edwards. "This is one of those years when things are extremely competitive in the race for the Western Slope title. I don't know that this is a must-win situation, but it's a fantastic opportunity for us."
Bohlmann said the Sailors are thrilled to have an opportunity to compete for the title with league-leading Battle Mountain, and everybody on the team realizes just how big a role the 6:30 p.m. game on Battle Mountain's new athletic field could play in the final stretch of the season.
Battle Mountain, currently 7-0-2, holds a five-point advantage over Steamboat (5-0-3) in league play. Eagle Valley, 6-2-1, is four points behind Steamboat. Glenwood Springs is 4-2-2.
After the showdown in Battle Mountain, the Sailors have games remaining against Rifle, Eagle Valley and Moffat County. Battle Mountain will face Rifle and Eagle Valley. "Sure, I would say this is a pivotal game," Cope said. "But there is still a lot of soccer left to be played, and there are four strong teams in the Western Slope this year."
Cope said the Battle Mountain players always look forward to games against Steamboat, regardless of the team's record or where they are in the standings.
"When the schedules come out, my players always mark the Steamboat games right away," Cope said. "We always look forward to these games, and this year it's even more exciting."
The two teams played to a 1-1 tie earlier this season. Cope said both teams have grown since that early meeting, but he expects another tightly contested game.
"This is going to be a great game with two of the best goalkeepers in the state," Cope said. "I wouldn't be surprised if it comes down to one goal."
Cope said Battle Mountain will look to goalie Clint Hervert to control the game and keep Steamboat's offensive attack off balance. The Huskies also will look for offensive support from a number of different players, including leading scorer Ubaldo Trujillo, who has 15 goals this season. However, the Sailors will not be able to look past Battle Mountain's Connor Tedstrom, Efren Gonzalez and Jack Sunderland. All four players have scored game-winning goals this season.
Bohlmann said Steamboat's fate will rest with the defense, starting with goalkeeper Connor Birch. Steamboat rarely gives up more than one goal in a game, and the coach said maintaining that streak will be one of the keys for a Sailors victory.
The other side of the equation will be for Steamboat's attackers to make the most of their opportunities.
"We will need to generate some offense and see if we can find one of two good scoring opportunities," Bohlmann said.