Reivers make MCC a believer

DES MOINES – It’s 986 miles of asphalt between Marshalltown Community College and the Smith River Sports Complex in Axton, Virginia.

Not nearly as long as the somber trip back up Highway 330 for the Tigers.

Finally snapping a season-long scoreless standoff, Iowa Western freshman midfielder Willy Ramirez sent the 12th-ranked Reivers back to the NJCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship when he stuffed home his own rebound in the second overtime of Sunday’s Region XI final at James W. Cownie Soccer Park.

Ramirez’s third goal of the season ended a standoff between two nationally ranked teams that persisted through two scoreless ties during Iowa Community College Athletic Conference play and nearly a third. Dribbling to his right at a full sprint, Ramirez turned the corner on a pair of MCC defenders and fired a shot on goal.

Marshalltown goalkeeper Rafael Pereira made a sliding stop of the initial attempt, but was unable to control the rebound after colliding with his teammates. Ramirez regained control and chipped a shot back across his body and into an unmanned net, sending the Reivers into a full-blown frenzy on the field with a thrilling 1-0 double-overtime triumph over the sixth-ranked Tigers.

The goal stopped the clock with 7:12 remaining in the second OT, bringing an abrupt end to Marshalltown’s near-perfect season and the dead heat between two of the best teams in the country. MCC (18-1-2) and Iowa Western (16-1-4) had played 323 minutes, 48 seconds, without relenting a goal, yet the streak was destined to end at some point. If not with a golden goal, then in the seemingly imminent shootout.

Penalty kicks were not a part of the plan, however, and the Reivers racked up their third consecutive Region XI championship. The national tournament will be contested Nov. 16-21 at Patrick Henry Community College in Virginia.

“We beat a team that is one of the best in the nation, for sure, hands down,” said Iowa Western coach Jordan Carver. “We haven’t seen a team like this from Marshalltown in a long time. I’m just very glad we didn’t have to go to PKs, but that’s what I was betting.”

Marshalltown was denied its first trip to the national tournament since 2012, when an unranked Tigers bunch stunned No. 3 Iowa Western 1-0 in the regional finals on this same pitch.

MCC’s 18 wins are the second-most in school history, though the team took no solace in all its accomplishments when Ramirez’s shot ruffled the back of the net.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, we knew we had to take advantage of the few chances that we were going to create, and unfortunately we didn’t and (Iowa Western) did a good job too of stopping us,” said MCC head coach Rafael Martinez. “They should be proud of themselves, they should be proud of what they’ve done.

“The difference between winning and losing is so small. You can deserve it and you can do so many things right and still not get the score that you think you deserve. The guys need to understand that’s part of the game and that’s why this is such a beautiful game”

Pareira made eight saves while his counterpart, Josh Blair, stopped three shots on goal in his 11th shutout of the season. Quality scoring chances came at a premium, and Marshalltown had trouble maneuvering through the Reivers’ relentless defense.

The Tigers’ best scoring opportunities arrived in the second half, with the wind at their backs. Thiago Fernandes hit the top half of the crossbar nine minutes out of the intermission. Sergio Beresaluze’s rolling right-footer 10 minutes later slipped through Blair’s gloves, but he gathered it in before it could reach the goal line.

In the 75th minute, an Alberto Morales corner kick sailed through the goal area and bounced untouched just beyond the far post. That, of all of MCC’s limited chances, stood out the most to Martinez.

“We hit the crossbar and we had a couple set pieces that we didn’t take advantage of,” he said. “I remember one that came across the whole box, and that’s one that we normally win and this time we didn’t.

“There were a lot of moments more than chances, moments that could have developed into a good chance.”

Morales, MCC’s leading goal scorer, went to the bench with an apparent injury during overtime and was not on the field when the deciding goal was scored. Neither was Fernandes, one of the Tigers’ most trusted midfielders, who was sent off after receiving a yellow card just 57 seconds before the Reivers broke through.

“This looked like a championship game,” Martinez said. “A lot of fighting, a lot of battling. You could sense the fear of making mistakes on both ends, especially near the end of the match. No one wanted to lose today.”