The Eagle soccer men were in Haviland, Kansas over the weekend where they participated in the Midwest Christian College Conference Soccer Tournament. The Eagles came into the tournament with the overall #1 seed after going 4-0-1 in the regular season against conference opponents. Friday's match, however, saw the Eagles struggle against a tough and determined young squad from Ozark, who took Emmaus all the way to penalty kicks before succumbing to the top seed 2-4 on penalties. Emmaus had earned their way to the championship match, which turned out to be a rematch with Manhattan Christian from the previous year's tournament. Manhattan managed to get the best of the Eagles the previous season, taking advantage of several Emmaus mistakes that resulted in 5-1 victory.
The Eagles entered Saturday's match excited and apprehensive, knowing that Manhattan is a storied program with coaches and players who know how to win. The match kicked off at 2:30 pm at a warm 74 degrees. Tensions were high for both teams as neither wanted to make a mistake. Emmaus took a few minutes to settle in, but once they did, they began to up the pressure on the Manhattan back line. Carson McBain came close to putting the Eagles ahead in the 24th minute when his rocket from outside the 18 was knocked wide with an excellent diving save by the Thunder keeper, Preston Seeger (#1).
It was Manhattan who struck first, however, in the 29th minute when a cross was bobbled by the Emmaus keeper, Gabriel Salinas (#1), and then bounced awkwardly off the hand of defender Jake Taylor, giving the Thunder a penalty. All-Conference player Nate Awbrey (#5) stepped up and buried the penalty to give the Thunder a 1-0 lead.
Fired up by the deficit, Emmaus pressed the attack and nearly tied things up when Jacob Chacko (#14) won the end line and sent in a short range cross that was nearly deflected on frame. Then, in the 39th minute the Eagles caught a break of their own when a free kick from McBain bounced off of a Thunder defender and bounced into the Thunder net for an own goal. The two teams entered the half tied up at a goal apiece.
The second half was a different story. The Eagles pushed forward immediately, finding space on the flanks. It didn't take long for them to capture their first lead of the game when Wakilongo Ebake (#17) won the left endline, firing in a perfect low cross to Fabian Parra (#3) who hit the ball one time into the back of the net. The Eagle defense then tightened things up, clearing out every Thunder attack that came close. Not content to sit on a one goal lead, however, the Emmaus offense continued to develop its attack. Parra won a ball at midfield and managed to get a pass off up the line just before being taken out at the legs. The pass found Ebake open on the left flank where he sent in a perfect cross over the Thunder keeper to the back post, where a crashing Neal Johnson (#4) tucked the ball into the net to give the Eagles a 3-1 lead.
The rest of the match saw Manhattan make a few good pushes, requiring Eagle keeper Salinas to make some big saves. McBain nearly got his goal with a blast from 30 yards out, but Seeger was up to the task again, making another diving save. The score stood as the Eagles secured their first ever MCCC conference tournament championship, winning the regular season and tournament titles.
"That was quite a match," said Coach Brown. "It was tense at times, and the guys were pushed mentally, physically, and spiritually. It wasn't pretty all the time, but they stuck to the game plan, listened to their coaches, played for one another, and were rewarded with a big win today. What a great weekend. We had opportunities to pray and sing with several other teams, we played quality soccer, and we are headed home knowing Christ was honored. I just hope we get several more matches together!"
The Eagles will continue their season this week as they participate in the NCCAA D2 North Central Regional Tournament to be hosted by Maranatha Baptist University. The Eagles (11-3-1) will likely be the #3 seed in the tournament, though they will not receive final confirmation until early next week.