It took three minutes for Eau Claire North to show that it meant business, and it took 29 minutes for the Huskies to do something they hadn’t done in five years.
But it only took the short halftime break for Eau Claire Memorial to get the boost it needed to turn things around.
The Old Abes scored three unanswered goals, two coming in the second half, to defeat North 3-1 on Thursday in a city rivalry game. Mitchell Brenner found the back of the net twice for Memorial, which got a battle from the Huskies the likes of which hadn’t been seen in a couple of years.
North was largely in control in the first half, and Logan Podolak rewarded the team’s efforts with a goal on a dipping strike over the head of Memorial goalkeeper Tyler Hanson in the 29th minute. It was the first time the Huskies had scored on Memorial since Dan Kron did it in a 2-1 loss on Sept. 26, 2013. Since then, Memorial had scored 46 unanswered goals in the rivalry prior to Podolak’s score.
North (1-5-1, 1-3-0) outshot the Old Abes 5-3 in the first 45 minutes on Thursday, but Memorial (2-1-0, 2-0-0) tied things up on a well-placed penalty kick from Brenner in the 35th minute.
At halftime, Memorial flipped the switch.
Brenner struck again in the 76th minute, and Carlos Verduzco scored in the 87th minute to ice the game away as the Huskies searched for an equalizer.
“I think we just played with more confidence,” Memorial coach David Kite said. “North came out flying. They had a great start, and you could see them scoring — and they did. They deserved the lead. But great resilience from the young team to step up and score the next three goals.”
The Huskies stated their intentions early. A fortunate deflection led to a close-range shot for North’s Jacob Owen in the third minute, but Hanson snuffed out the chance with a save.
The strong start caught Memorial a bit off guard, according to Brenner.
“They came out pretty strong. We definitely came out a little sloppy, we might have been thinking this would be an easy game. But it wasn’t easy,” he said.
Podolak nearly scored the opener in the 10th minute, rocketing a shot off the post after being fed a nice pass by Lushi Peng Xiong. It only took Podolak 19 more minutes to find the target, and in the meantime, Xiong had blasted a shot straight at Hanson in the 21st minute that might have put North on the board had it swerved in either direction.
“That first 45 minutes, when we put a full game together (like that), we’re going to be a team to be reckoned with,” North coach Terry Albrecht said. “We’ve done that every game, where we play a good half — either the first half or the second half — but we lose our focus a little bit. We start getting a little excited maybe, a little fatigued. We’re trying to put our finger on it.”
Things changed in a hurry in the second half, as Memorial started to control most of the possession and peppered North goalkeeper Ayden White with plenty of shots.
White did his part for much of the second half with save after save, but a cross that slipped just past his fingertips in the 76th minute allowed a well-positioned Brenner to knock the ball home from right in front of the goal to put the Old Abes up 2-1.
“It was a good ball in,” Brenner said. “Got a little fortunate that it landed right at my feet, and I put it in the back of the net.”
As North surged toward Memorial’s goal in an effort to tie the game late, an Old Abes counterattack was capped by Verduzco’s goal with three minutes left to play.
Memorial outshot North 12-2 in the second half.
“We had to pump each other up, stay strong,” Brenner said of the team’s halftime adjustments. “We don’t want to get on each other’s tail about mistakes, and keep working as a team.”
Podolak was a nuisance for the Memorial defense for much of the game. He floated onto the end of some pinpoint passes from the midfield and got into dangerous positions with his speed, particularly in the first half.
“What was really setting it up was the play in the midfield, the passes in the middle. What it does is cause the defense to step up, and opens up the space behind,” Albrecht said.
Kite noted that the win was a good learning experience for a Memorial team that had a lot of roster turnover from last year to this season.
Albrecht said the Huskies are a few steps away from regularly putting themselves in position to win. He believes it comes down to finding a way to play a full 90 minutes.
“We can play with anybody, it’s just a matter of keeping our focus, keeping our calm, and understanding what we need to do with the ball,” he said.