More than halfway through the season, Eau Claire Memorial boys soccer’s record remains nearly unblemished.
The squad has one loss, suffered against state-ranked Oregon, and one draw in conference play, coming against fellow Big Rivers favorite Hudson. There have been very few let-ups for the No. 6-ranked Division 1 team in the state, including Thursday afternoon.
Lui Shi Xiong showed off his dynamic skill set, notching a goal and an assist, and the Old Abes kept possession for a majority of the contest in a 4-0 home victory against River Falls.
“It can take a little bit of time for talent to wove together,” Memorial coach David Kite said. “I think right now we’re hitting a really good stride.”
Memorial was hot right out of the gate, with Xiong notching the first goal of a chilly afternoon 74 seconds in. He corralled a pass in the box from Luke Rosenberger, held for a few seconds and beat Wildcats keeper Benjamin Matheson from close range.
“I saw that my guy was going to cross it and usually I try to make that cutting run in front of a defender because sometimes it goes short,” Xiong said. “And that’s what I did.”
A bit of luck put the Abes up two in the final minute of the first half. Memorial sent a cross into the box from the middle third and River Falls’ Joe Cottrell’s header to clear accidentally went under the bar and just over the outstretched hand of Matheson.
That set Memorial up for a comfortable finish, at least compared to its 2-1 triumph against the Wildcats earlier in the season. Xiong kickstarted Memorial’s third tally, getting an impressive pass from the end line through a handful of defenders and to Garrett Woodford in the 61st minute.
“You just kind of see you’ve got some guys down there and you put it down low,” Xiong said. “It might go off a defender and be an own goal or your guy will just tap it in.”
Woodford made no mistake, firing the ball in from the middle of the box.
“Lui Shi’s an incredible player,” Memorial defender Logan Junker said. “You can give him the ball and he can get through four guys like no one else can.”
Ryder Woodworth finished off the offensive outburst by heading home a free kick from Junker in the 65th minute. Eventually, Memorial’s continued offensive attacks wore River Falls’ defensive unit out.
There were a handful of River Falls opportunities, including one in the 59th minute that required a strong clearance from Will Hartman after a shot got through Memorial keeper Scott Knowlton. The Abes defense stood tall through all of it, recording their seventh shutout of the season.
“I think we were getting a little tired on defense but our mids were getting out and helping out,” Junker said. “We were working pretty well as a team.”
Knowlton made three saves in net.
The River Falls matchup was the first date in an important week for Memorial. The Old Abes travel across town next Tuesday to play arch rival North before meeting Hudson, predicted to be the team’s biggest competitor for the league crown at the end of the year, on Thursday.
Also looming on the remaining BRC schedule is a second meeting with North and a home match with Rice Lake, the 10-ranked team in D3. Memorial will play Wauwatosa East and Oshkosh West in a quad this weekend.
“Just play hard, play smart,” Woodworth said of the team’s mindset. “We’re in a little bit of card trouble. We’ve just got to play smart and keep our heads.”
Eau Claire Memorial 4, River Falls 0
River Falls 0 0 — 0
Memorial 2 2 — 4
Goals: 1, ECM, Lui Shi Xiong (Luke Rosenberger), 2nd minute; 2, ECM, Own goal, 45th minute; 3, ECM, Garrett Woodford (Xiong), 61st, 4, ECM, Ryder Woodworth (Logan Junker), 65th. Shots: River Falls 5, Memorial 18. Saves: Benjamin Matheson (RF) 8, Scott Knowlton (ECM) 3. Records: Eau Claire Memorial 8-1-3, 6-0-1.