By Josh Brown
TROY — During its four-game homestand, the Troy boys soccer team has struggled with slow starts.
Tuesday, in arguably the most important game of the regular season, it cost the Trojans.
Entering the night tied for the Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division lead with the Trojans, the reigning champion Butler Aviators scored midway through the first half, retook the lead when Troy answered and put away the game with a second-half insurance goal, holding off the Trojans in what turned into a testy rivalry matchup 3-1 Tuesday night at Troy Memorial Stadium.
“The kids played hard. Both teams played hard,” Troy coach Richard Phillips said. “The kids played hard for 80 minutes, did what we asked them to. We just didn’t get behind their defense or penetrate, but we kept playing hard to the end. The kids never gave up.”
Troy (8-3, 2-1 GWOC North) — which finished the homestand 2-2, also falling to Centerville — has struggled against Butler recently, going 0-4-3 since 2009, including a pair of losses last season, one in the postseason. The last time the Trojans defeated the Aviators was in 2008, a 7-2 victory.
Tuesday, the Aviators (10-1, 3-0 GWOC North) put pressure on the Troy goal early, but none of the chances were particularly dangerous as the teams felt each other out. As the midway point of the first half drew near, though, Butler’s opportunities became more and more threatening.With 25:50 left in the half, Jack Spoltman beautifully redirected a perfect cross, but Troy goalkeeper Alex Williams made an equally stellar play to leap up and make the save. And roughly one minute later, Terrance Engle got behind the Troy defense on a breakaway but hit a shot too high, drilling the crossbar and allowing the Trojans to clear it away.
At 21:46, though, Butler finally found the back of the net on an unexpected shot.
Zach Burgmeier hit a long, rolling shot from 35 yards out that found its way through a lot of traffic along its path. Screened by all the players in front, Williams didn’t see it coming until it was too late. It rolled past his outstretched hands, caromed off the far post and into the goal to put the Trojans down 1-0.
“We just weren’t closing down,” Phillips said. “We didn’t close down quickly enough on defense, and that first goal ricocheted off the far post and in.”
Troy, meanwhile, struggled to put together a consistently organized attack on offense — but it did find a way to answer Butler’s score. From the Trojans’ side of the midfield marker, Cam Schulz sent a long pass toward the Butler end. Instead of receiving the pass, J.T. Yenney deflected the ball while standing still to Jake Diffenderfer Gabbard as he ran past. Butler keeper Erik King came out of the goal in an attempt to cut him off early, but Diffenderfer Gabbard dribbled once to beat him and tapped the ball into the net to even the score at 1-1.
“Cam put a nice ball down the field, and Jake made a run on the goal,” Phillips said.
From that point, the intensity went up on both sides, and the game became physical. Butler took advantage of that before halftime as Engle muscled his way past a Troy defender while racing for a long, direct pass toward the Trojans’ goal. Once he fought past for a breakaway, beating the keeper one-on-one to give the Aviators a 2-1 lead with 5:11 until halftime — which is where the score stood at the break.
“The passion showed up for both teams,” Phillips said of the physicality. “They were winning the 50-50 balls, so we had to try to stop that. We expected it coming in. We expected this type of match.
“On that second goal, they just got behind our defense. They’re quick, and they played hard.”
The rough play continued and even escalated in the second half, and the officials letting play continue both ways exacerbated matters. With about 30 minutes to play, a Butler player was pulled down from behind on another breakaway, but no penalty kick was called for. A pair of yellow cards finally came out a bit later, one given to each team, and fouls began to be called more frequently as the officials fought to regain control.
Troy paid the price for it, too. A foul was called in the corner in the Trojans’ defensive end, and Butler sent the free kick right in front of the Troy goal. Andrew Eifert made a play on the ball unchallenged, heading in an insurance goal for a 3-1 lead with 20:18 left to play.
“On that third goal, we just didn’t lock up tight,” Phillips said. “We didn’t defend on the free kick. We just let them put it in.”
From there, Butler went into a purely defensive mode and tried simply to run the clock, and Troy was able to get a few shots at the Aviator goal. A near miss went wide with 12:20 to go, then three more shots in the final 10 minutes either missed or were saved by King, and the Aviators celebrated the victory.
Both teams will be in non-division action next, with Troy traveling to Miamisburg Thursday and Butler heading to Wayne Saturday in search of its ninth straight win.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.