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Letter to the Editor: New Soccer Coach Alan Merrick Notches First Win

Eagan High School's boys soccer team beat Hill-Murray 2-0 in the first game of the regular season last Thursday, according to letter writer and assistant soccer coach Mike Wagner.

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The soccer gods smiled on Alan Merrick Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012 as the thunder, lightning, and rain held off long enough for the boys soccer Wildcats to play their first game of the season. After a long and storied professional playing and coaching career, as well as experience with Minnesota amateur teams and collegiate level teams, Coach Merrick guided the Wildcats to his first ever high school coaching victory.

Coach Merrick started seven of the eight seniors (Kyle Stefani is out with an
injury) alongside four juniors.

The opening night nerves were still evident as Eagan struggled to control the ball in the midfield in the first half with Hill-Murray overloading the midfield and running substitutes in and out of the game. Senior co- captains Wyatt Wagner (forward) and Juan Sjoberg (attacking-midfield) worked with senior Sergio Munoz (forward) and juniors Ryan Mott (outside-midfield) and Toby Heller (outside-midfield) to produce six shots, but only forced the Hill-Murray keeper to make one save. Fellow senior co-captain, Kyle Mayne (outside-back) along with seniors Ryan Larson (centerback) and Carter Johns (centerback) and junior co-captain Jake Punch (holding-midfield) and Ed Olson (outside-midfield) helped anchor the defensive back-line only allowing Hill three attempts at the goal. Senior Keith Krawza (keeper) was up to the task of making the two saves necessary to keep Hill off the board as the two teams ended the first half tied 0-0. Juniors Jonah Garcia (attacking-midfield) and Ahmed Ahmed (outside-midfield) also got into the action in the first half.

At halftime the crowd was treated to the Varsity Halftime Shoot-Out sponsored by Solos Pizza Café. Three fans were chosen to compete for gift cards to Solos Pizza. Two of the three contestants made two of three shots forcing a juggle-off tiebreaker with one of them able to keep the ball up longer in taking home the $50 grand prize gift card to Solos Pizza. The second prize was a $25 gift card to Solos Pizza. A $15 gift card to Solos Pizza was awarded to the third contestant after making their first shot, but missing their second. Sign up for your chance to win next time you are in the stadium.

As the second half started, Eagan came out determined to move the ball more
quickly and pinched in their outside-midfielders to alleviate the advantage Hill-
Murray exploited in the first half. Sophomore Abdi Ali (forward) started the second half along with Garcia in place of Munoz and Sjoberg with the remaining starters from the first-half still intact. In the 45th minute Eagan played the ball into the Hill penalty area, as a number of players touched the ball in a bit of a scramble, Mott was able to coral the ball and play it into the keeper six-yard box to a waiting Wyatt Wagner for the first goal of the season and a 1-0 Eagan lead. As the half wore on Eagan gained more and more possession and as Hill chased more and more they appeared to run low on gas. That allowed Coach Merrick to get everyone in the game.

Munoz, Sjoberg, and Ahmed came back in as Garcia, Wagner, and Mott left the game. Heller and Punch also took a seat as junior Jordan Puchniak (outside-midfield) and freshman Chad Miller (holding-midfield) saw their first action. When Mayne had to leave the game because of blood on his knee, junior Kevin Clough (outside-back) replaced him. The other half of the keeper tandem, Brady Martin, should see action next week at Park or Eden Prairie. Eagan’s dominance didn’t skip a beat with fresh players on the field.

In the 75th minute shortly after re-entering the game, Wagner found himself clear inside the penalty area on the right side, a little chip toward the six-yard box found the head of Ali, who headed it back across the net past the Hill keeper to extend the lead to 2-0 for the final tally of the game. Eagan managed seven shots in the second half including the two goals. The defense was stellar in the second half as well, only allowing five shots. Krawza, was up to the task of making the two saves needed to record the first shutout of the season.

Coach Merrick is excited about the potential the group has shown thus far and looks for them to keep improving as the season wears on. Family, friends, classmates, and members of the Eagan community are encouraged to come and cheer on the Wildcats. The next three games will see the Wildcats travel to Park Cottage Grove, Eden Prairie, and Eastview. Thursday, September 6th will be the next home game at Wildcat Stadium against Lakeville North.

Briefly: Zach Hunsinger has been appointed to coach the sophomore team at Eagan. He hails from Apple Valley having played high school soccer there. He spent his summers playing for the Valley United Juventas team coached by Marc Sutton (Director of Soccer Operation at Shattuck-St. Mary’s) who coached six of the current Eagan senior varsity players the last few summers. Juventas was a perennial power in the Minnesota Premier League and Midwest Premier League. They also won a handful of Minnesota State Cup Competitions advancing to play in the Midwest Regionals. Please take the opportunity to welcome Coach Hunsinger to the Eagan High School boys’ soccer community coaching staff.

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