By Neil Pierson
If Puget Sound Gunners FC players had been told beforehand they would generate 15 shots, they would’ve like their chances to score at least one goal.
But none of those shots materialized onto the scoreboard for the Gunners, who settled for a 0-0 tie with visiting Calgary Foothills FC in a Premier Development League Northwest Division soccer match July 3 at Issaquah High School.
Puget Sound (0-6-5, 5 points) nearly walked away with its first victory of the season, but couldn’t capitalize on extended periods of possession and some great looks at goal.
That was particularly true of the second half, when midfielder Adam Jones and forward Renan Troccoli found gap after gap in the Calgary defense.
“When we went to Calgary (May 17), we felt we deserved better than a 2-1 loss,” Jones said. “And tonight, again, we feel a little hard-pressed not getting the win with the type of chances we created.
“It was definitely a night where I felt like we created the best chances … and it’s too bad we didn’t finish it off.”
Despite the 7:30 p.m. kickoff, temperatures were well above 80 degrees during the first half, and it showed as the Gunners and fourth-place Calgary (2-2-7, 13 points) struggled to break down each other’s defenses.
After a referee-mandated water break midway through the half, the pace of play picked up a bit, and the Gunners began creating chances through high pressure and strong runs down the wings.
Puget Sound’s best scoring opportunity came in the final few minutes when midfielder Kyle Bjornethun unleashed a volley from 25 yards. The shot looked to be headed in under the crossbar, but Foothills FC goalkeeper Nolan Wirth leapt high and pawed it away.
The Gunners were missing one of their better strikers, Daniel Gavin, so coach Alex Silva shifted defender Zach Hammond up front.
“He’s a big guy up top who is able to help us out,” Silva said, “so that was the big thing, missing Danny and having a big presence, a big body up top in front of their two center backs.”
“We’re just throwing different players in different situations, and it worked a little bit tonight,” Jones added. “We have a good group here that, if you shift them around, they can adapt.”
Puget Sound forward Dawda Dibba had a quality chance in the 51st minute when he dribbled through multiple defenders, but sent his shot off the side of the net.
Dibba left the match after 70 minutes due to cramps, but Gunners FC had plenty of threats left in its attack.
In the 75th minute, Jones ran through the middle of the field and sent the ball wide to the right to Troccoli, who juked a defender and beat Wirth to the far post, only to see the shot roll inches wide.
Foothills FC had a similar chance a few minutes later as forward Dominic Russo got past two defenders and rolled a left-footed shot wide of Ryan Herman’s goal.
The Gunners applied more pressure, and had two more solid tries at goal. Troccoli set up Jones for a 15-yard shot that flew over the crossbar, and Bjornethun’s header from a corner kick was cleared off the goal line by a Calgary defender.
Jones and Troccoli – two of the Gunners’ mainstays for much of the season – have developed chemistry that was on full display.
“When you get rid of the ball, you want to give it to him as high up the pitch as possible, because he can beat anyone at any given time,” Jones said of Troccoli.
“That’s what we tried to do in the second half, and it worked really well. He beat his man, he found good passes, he whipped in good balls and he developed scoring chances. He did a really, really good job of that tonight.”
Silva said the Gunners have been able to play more cohesively in the past two games, earning ties with the Portland Timbers U23s and Calgary. Part of that has been the integration of a couple new players: defender Garret Jackson and goalkeeper Herman, who both play for the University of Washington.
As the team heads into its final match – a 7:30 p.m. start July 11 against the Seattle Sounders U23s at Issaquah High School – increased solidarity could be enough to push Gunners FC to its first victory.
“That’s one thing I mentioned to the boys – it’s how we finish,” Silva said. “It has been a great couple last games. The boys did not put their heads down. We talked about it and said we’re going to finish strong. And I’m very proud that they lifted their heads up and said, ‘We’ll do it.’”
Jones said the team’s recent trip to Oregon was a boon, even though the Gunners lost matches to Portland and Lane United FC. Away from the field, the players were able to get to know each in ways only road trips allow.
“It’s kind of hard with everyone being scattered … and there’s not many trips where you can go on the road with guys, and that’s where you really build a lot of cohesion,” he said. “It’s too bad it has come at the end of the year, but at least it has come.”