(written for goalWA by Highline team personnel)
TUKWILA, WA— The Highline College Men’s Soccer team continued their playoff march with a hard-fought 4-‐2 victory of the Orcas of Whatcom College at Starfire. In a day in which Highline’s Western Conference counterparts, Peninsula and Tacoma, both got knocked out of the playoffs, the Thunderbirds were left to hold the Western Banner and find a way through a resilient Orca defense. The ‘Birds have qualified for the fifth consecutive NWAC Final Four appearance, a current streak that only the T-‐Birds can boast. Highline will look to face off against the Skagit Valley Cardinals in their next match.
Right from the kickoff it was very clear that Whatcom had an intelligent game plan and had worked hard in the training days leading up to the game in order to execute it. The Orcas would looked to play a high defensive line to keep the quick Thunderbird attack at bay while looking to play extremely direct on any given opportunity. The strategy paid off in the 18th minute when the Orcas were awarded a free-‐kick near midfield. A long searching ball was sent deep into the Highline penalty area. Whatcom forward Conlon Kiffney found himself with space and was able to flick a header goal bound and his initial attempted rebounded off the base of the left post. However, the rebound was very kind to Conlon as it came right back in the center of the goal. With Highline goalkeeper Grayson Raffensperger already on the ground after diving for the first shot, Kiffney simply could not miss and smashed home from close range to give Whatcom the advantage in the early going.
All the goal did was inspire a very talented T-‐Bird team even further. Highline only had to wait six minutes to even up proceedings and on the 24th minute mark, Isidro Prado-‐Huerta did that in style. Isidro, who has often played creator, found himself with space just outside the Orca penalty area. Prado-‐Huerta was able to maneuver around a couple challenges before dispatching an absolutely stunning strike that careened into the upper right corner of the Whatcom net. The goal, which was brilliant, would have to be a short list for one of the strikes of the season. The game was evened up and had all the feelings and emotions of a high-‐stakes post season match up.
Isidro was in fine form on the day and was able to give the ‘Birds the lead on 32 minutes. Freshman Brandon Madsen gathered the ball 35 yards out from the Whatcom goal in the center of the field and was able to play a wonderfully weighted through ball down the left flank to Isidro. Prado-‐Huerta made no mistake as he took one touch to control the pass before calmly slotted ball passed the onrushing Orca goalkeeper Andrew Wildfong. Highline was now up 2-‐1 and that is the way the teams would go into the halftime interval.
The start of the second period saw much of the same game plan from both teams, Highline bossing possession with Whatcom absorbing pressure and going very direct with any chance they got. The Thunderbird defensive unit had to be on their game and win most of their aerial duels as they were tested incessantly with long ball after long ball. However the defense held strong and were for the most part able to keep the Orcas at bay.
Isidro would double Highline’s advantage on the 64th minute, complete his hat trick, and show some absolutely sublime individual skill in the process. Isidro picked up the ball on the left flank and made his way into the Orca box, he twisted, cut back, and turned the Whatcom right back inside out before smashing his effort into the lower right hand corner of the net. Highline looked to be cruising and could have put the game out of reach if not for some very fine goal keeping by Wildfong, who has to be one of the favorites for the All-‐Star team.
Being a playoff game, Whatcom was not going to take the events lying down and would keep the game interesting by scoring a goal in the 83rd minute. An Orca midfielder was played through down the right flank and expertly cut a ball back across the box about 8 yards from the Highline net. Grayson did very well to save the first point-‐blank effort, but the resulting rebound fell to Whatcom’s Nathan Haddock who smashed a shot on frame. Thunderbird right back Tyler John slid and attempted to block the shot and at first glance looked as though he succeeded. However, the ball was judged to have crossed the line and put Whatcom right back into the match.
Despite some very tense moments, Freshman Brandon Madsen would put an end to the game in added time. Madsen was rightly judged to have been chopped down in the box and stood over the resulting penalty. He made no mistake as he smashed his effort into the back of the net to ensure that Highline would reach their 5th consecutive NWAC Final Four.
It must be said that the match was played in very good spirit for it’s duration and only had one booking over the course of the entire game. Next up for the Thunderbirds is a date with the Skagit Valley Cardinals Saturday, November 15th, 6pm at Starfire Stadium. Make sure to make your plans early to get out and support your Highline College Thunderbirds!
A special thank-you goes out to Highline’s own Jack Harton for coming out and snapping some great photos of the match.
goalWA.net Local Soccer News is sponsored by Pro Roofing Northwest, Kirkland, Bellevue, Seattle, Redmond, Woodinville, Federal Way, Everett, Snohomish, Issaquah, Renton, Kent, Bothell, Edmonds Washington roofing company.