WATERLOO — A soccer schedule filled with early cancellations afforded no dress rehearsals for the annual metro rivalry game between Cedar Falls and Waterloo West.
Playing on a calm, yet crisp Thursday night at Cedar Valley Soccer Complex, Cedar Falls was a more cohesive group throughout a 2-0 victory over the Wahawks in each team’s season opener.
“It’s usually the biggest game of the year,” Cedar Falls coach Spencer Steffy said. “It’s kind of weird playing them so early. It’s always a close game either way, and to come out 2-nil is big. It’s a good statement for us to start off the season.”
The Tigers struck first when sophomore forward Timothy Thompson found a second cross attempt from Tanner Tangen off a corner kick that slipped through West’s defenders for a far-post goal late in the opening half. Cedar Falls junior forward Matthew Cook tallied an insurance goal on a run up left sideline midway into the second half.
In addition to the two goals, Cedar Falls had three more scoring chances negated by offside calls. The Tigers dictated play throughout the final 40 minutes after the two teams generated nearly the same number of opportunities in the opening stanza.
Senior right back Chimzim Ogbondah and junior Benny Bundi were among the leaders within Cedar Falls’ back line, while senior goalkeeper Sam Burken served as another valuable communicator. Burken made a pair of late saves after his teammate Nathan Le missed a shot off the crossbar that would have extended the lead to three.
It was a strong debut for Cedar Falls team that struggled down the stretch with six consecutive losses a year ago, but has returned nearly its entire starting unit.
“We went through a lot of growing pains last year,” Steffy said. “This year leadership-wise the seniors that we do have, have done a great job of turning things around. The group made a valiant effort in the offseason to take a step forward. ... I think tonight is a good indication of that.”
Midfielder Luke Loughren is among the veteran leaders pleased with Cedar Falls’ approach entering the season.
“Last year we weren’t very physical,” Loughren said. “This year we’ve been playing harder. We have more experience and we know what we’re doing more.
“We had some really good ball movement in the middle and then we played it out wide a lot and had some good crosses. But mostly it was the defense that did the best job. They won a lot of headers and (West) really didn’t have a lot of chances.”
Following a successful 15-7 season, West coach Mike Penning is looking towards growth from newcomers as they take on larger roles and the pieces begin to gel together.
The Wahawks just missed scoring first in this game when Edvin Rizvic’s cross slipped wide left of the far post with a teammate charging toward the net early in the opening half. Opportunities fizzled down 2-0 in the second half as senior forward Richardson Gbeynie exited the game following a second yellow card.
“We’ve got a lot of new guys trying to step up and play some important roles,” Penning said. “It would have been nice to play some other teams and have those outdoor practices, but Cedar Falls is in the same boat as ours. That’s not an excuse. We weren’t ready. They’re well coached and they took it to us there for a lot of that game.”