Irondale’s turnaround creating a buzz

The Irondale High School boys soccer team entered the 2016 season having won just three games over the previous two years. Following a 0-5 start, it looked like it was going to be more of the same this season but then something changed.

Starting with a tie against Coon Rapids on Sept. 8, Irondale went seven games without a loss. The Knights saw their unbeaten streak come to an end last week but they responded with a victory over an old rival two days later.

Head coach Mario Perez had a simple answer on how the turnaround came about.

“We didn’t have a complete team at that time,” said Perez. “There were a lot of kids who came into the season not in shape. To be on my varsity team, you have to be in shape. If you’re not in shape, you re going to have to get in shape before you join us.”

Once the lineup included everyone, Irondale’s fortunes turned around for the better.

The Knights’ first match that didn’t end in a loss was a 2-2 tie against Coon Rapids. They followed that up with a 6-2 pasting of St. Francis, a tie against Osseo and a win over Andover. After tying Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony Village, Irondale won back-to-back games over Blaine and Robbinsdale Armstrong.

The Blaine and Armstrong victories gave Irondale wins in consecutive games for the first time since late in 2013.

Irondale saw its unbeaten string snapped in a 3-1 loss to Maple Grove on Sept. 27 but bounced back to down rival Totino-Grace 1-0 on Sept. 29. Freshman Carlos Momsen scored the only goal off a corner kick.

The win over Totino-Grace snapped the Eagles’ seven-game winning streak.

Even though the success Irondale is having is something new for the program in recent seasons, Perez said the team is keeping each game in perspective.

“Right now we’re just taking it one game at a time,” Perez said. “It’s a win towards our goal. We play in a tough conference so we celebrate tonight and then we get back to work tomorrow.”

Another reason for Irondale’s rebound this season is its goalkeeper. Junior Kennedy Kikeh is new to the school and gives the team a solid option in goal. Kikeh made a number of big saves against Totino-Grace, including one in the first half where he leaped and poked the ball over the crossbar on a shot that looked like it was going in had Kikeh not gotten a piece of it.

“Having a good goalie is what we missed last year and now we have one,” Perez said.

Irondale closes out the regular season this week with two final Northwest Suburban Conference matches. The Knights travel to two-time defending Class AA state champion Anoka on Oct. 4 and host Elk River on Oct. 6.

A strong finish this week could land Irondale a first-round home playoff game. The Section 5AA soccer playoffs begin Oct. 13 with the play-in round featuring the eighth and ninth-seeded teams. The quarterfinals are Oct. 15.

 

Brian Meyers can be reached at bmeyers@lillienews.com or 651-748-7819. Follow him on Twitter @BMeyersNews.

 

 

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