OAK PARK HEIGHTS — A new era in the Stillwater boys’ soccer program kicked off with a familiar result on Thursday as the Ponies blanked St. Paul Central 2-0 in the semifinals of the Minnesota Cup at Pony Stadium.
For the first time in more than three decades someone other than hall of fame coach Phil Johnson is calling the shots for Stillwater, but coach Jake Smothers enjoyed a victory in his debut with the Ponies. Stillwater advances to Saturday’s championship game where it will face Wayzata, a 5-0 winner over Spring Lake Park in the other semifinal.
Jared Allan scored midway through the first half on an assist from his younger brother Patrick Allan to give the Ponies a 1-0 lead, which stood up after holding the Minutemen without a shot on goal until the last four minutes of the game. Stillwater outshot its opponents 19-1 and Erik Meitz required just one save to notch the shutout in his first varsity start in goal for the Ponies.
“It was a good start for us,” Smothers said. “We were very possessive with the ball and very attack oriented. I was very proud of the guys and they remained strong in the field with their defensive responsibilities. Anytime Central tried to throw it out of their own end our midfielders were able to win the ball.”
Alex Jurcoi and Tashi Tsering were credited for their work in the middle, along with new center back Sandro Roos.
“I was very surprised with the maturity of the group considering we’re starting a lot of players who are new to varsity soccer,” Smothers said. “We started four players who were on the team last year and I was very impressed with our ability to pass and move the ball and the willingness to hold the ball and not just give it away. We’ve been working on it for 10 days, but I could not have imagined we’d be that good at it this early in the season.”
Nathan Purdie extended Stillwater’s lead to 2-0 with a goal in the 17th minute of the second half on an assist by Cole Bardwell.
“Both goals came off wonderful passing movement,” Smothers said.
The victories by Stillwater and Wayzata means Smothers will not have to face his former team on Saturday. Smothers, a Stillwater resident, coached the Panthers for eight seasons before taking the Ponies job after Johnson’s retirement last fall.
“Obviously I was rooting for them,” Smothers said of Spring Lake Park. “They’re my former team and it was good to see some of those players again and I hoped they could have won.”
St. Paul Central 0 0 — 0
Stillwater 1 1 — 2
St — 18:00 — Jared Allan (Patrick Allan)
St — 17:00 — Nathan Purdie (Cole Bardwell)
Shots on goal — SPC: 1; St: 19.
Goalie saves — SPC: NA; St: Erik Meitz — 1.