URBANA — Riley Daiger calls teammate Sam Myers the fittest player on Oakdale’s boys soccer team.
If an opposing player has the ball at his feet, Myers can be seen bearing down on the player and looking to take the ball away, applying the same relentless pressure in the later stages of matches as he does in the opening minutes. Regardless, Oakdale coach Mitch Rubin still found reason to challenge him prior to the Bears facing Urbana on the road Thursday.
“Earlier, he’s been on my case about not being able to tackle somebody, but tonight I was able to step in and get the ball,” Myers said.
The 5-foot-1 junior forward responded to the challenge, heading a defensive effort that rattled the Hawks in a 3-0 victory that marked just the second time Oakdale had beaten Urbana in program history.
On several occasions during the match, Rubin called out for double-teams on the sideline, and when he did, Myers and another teammate proceeded to swarm that player. And more often than not, possession changed.
“He doesn’t stop running,” said Daiger, who scored his sixth goal of the season on a penalty kick in the 21st minute to give Oakdale a 2-0 lead. “It’s insane. I’ll see him flying around in circles in practice. I could never run that much.”
While Myers’ position on the field, forward, carries some measure of scoring responsibility, Rubin puts more emphasis on a strong work rate when Oakdale’s top offensive threats don’t have the ball at their feet.
“Some kids will shut down when coaches are on them, but [Myers] rose to the occasion, and he kind of led us tonight,” Rubin said. “I thought he did a great job, and we fed off his energy a little bit.
“He can run forever. [In previous matches] he was running, [but] there was no production from his running. Tonight, he was winning balls. I actually thought he was pretty good on the ball, and he was helping us create some things.”
So the Bears (4-0) spent much of the first half operating in front of the Hawks goal as Urbana did not attempt a shot on goal until the 32nd minute. The Hawks (2-2), who graduated a host of seniors from last year’s Class 4A state runner-up team, mustered just three shots on goal for the match.
“They were very, very organized, they didn’t really give us a whole lot of time on the ball, and that created a lot of turnovers for them,” Urbana coach Scott Schartner said. “And they were impeccable in the 18-yard box — organized, very aggressive and just [capitalized] on the opportunities they created.”
Around the penalty box, Oakdale flourished on set pieces, with Daniel Ivanov heading in a corner kick from Griffin Vinal to open the scoring in the fifth minute. In the 22nd minute, Christian Topovich settled a free kick from Owen Cunha in the box before pumping in a shot that extended the lead to 3-0.
Daiger’s goal marked the third time he has scored on a penalty kick this season — and the fourth PK conversion overall for the Bears. Their defense has certainly contributed to the number of PK opportunities.
“With the higher pressure in the box, [opponents] panic and then they foul, and we get [the PK chances],” Myers said.
Oakdale averages three goals per game, and they’ve done so against quality opponents. The Bears have also defeated a stout Class 3A team in Thomas Johnson along with Winters Mill, which has knocked off defending Class 1A state champion Patterson Mill this season.
But the victory against the Hawks might mean even more to the Bears, who had never beaten Urbana during Daiger’s four seasons in high school.
“We wanted it more,” Daiger said. “We thought we could beat them, we knew we could beat them, we think we’re the best team in the county — and we showed that tonight.”