By Josh Brown
TROY — It’s deja vu all over again.
Last season, the Troy boys soccer team, thanks to a draw against Greenville, needed to beat Tippecanoe head to head to win the Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division title. Instead, they battled the Red Devils to a draw, as well, and Tippecanoe claimed the division crown.
And now, after being unable to hold onto the lead and fighting the Butler Aviators to a 1-1 tie Tuesday night at Troy Memorial Stadium, the Trojans (8-2-1, 6-0-1 GWOC American North) find themselves in the exact same scenario heading into next week’s pivotal showdown against the division-leading Red Devils.
The three teams had been tied atop the division standings with no losses entering Tuesday’s play. But now Tippecanoe has the lead all to itself with an 8-0 record, while Troy and Butler (8-1-3, 6-0-1 GWOC American North) are tied for second.
“The league right now, with Butler, ourselves, Tipp and Sidney, it’s a very competitive league between those four teams,” Troy coach Richard Phillips said. “Anything can happen between those four clubs can happen. But at this time, right now, it’s a must-win situation with Tipp for us to stay alive in the league.”
After beginning the season 7-0, Troy has now gone 1-2-1 in its last four games, including a disappointing 2-1 loss to Wayne on Saturday — which the Red Devils had defeated 6-0 two nights before. And while Phillips was much happier with the way his Trojans played Tuesday night against the Aviators, there was still things to improve on.
“The way we played tonight was much better than last week against Wayne,” Phillips said. “It’s encouraging for us, but also when we’re under pressure like we were in the last few minutes of this match, our mindset was just to clear the ball instead of trying for possession and working. It’s something that we have to work on. But I can’t fault anyone for the effort that we had tonight. It was much better.”
Especially since, against Wayne, the Trojans started so poorly, giving up both goals in the first half and never posing a threat.
Against Butler, Troy put pressure on from the start, with Nathan Kleptz getting the ball to Elijah Williams in front of the goal six minutes in. Williams shot went just high, but it was just the beginning.
And with 31:27 left in the first half, Williams got a chance at redemption — and cashed it in. Bailey Webb brought the ball up the sideline, drawing the defense’s attention long enough to get the ball to Williams in the middle of the field. Williams hit a low shot that Butler’s goalkeeper got his hands on, but the ball trickled away from him and over the goal line to put the Trojans up 1-0 — and that’s where things remained at halftime.
But in the second half, Butler’s defense limited Troy to only three real chances. Matt Buerger hit a pair of 20-yard shots — one that was saved and another that went high — and then a cross from Williams to Webb that Butler’s keeper slid out to cover up before a shot could be taken.
And though the Aviators didn’t have that many chances of their own despite maintaining possession of the ball for most of the half, Chris Mitrousis converted on one of them. With 24:44 left in the game, he took a free kick after a foul from roughly 25 yards out, hitting a shot into the upper 90 to even the score at 1-1.
“Creating chances (is one thing), but finishing is the other part,” Phillips said. “You’ve got to be able to finish those opportunities, and that didn’t happen. And especially when we only had two or three shots on frame. We never got the shot that we wanted — but it was the same thing with them. But the goal that they scored in a dead-ball situation, we’ve got to do a better job of defending in situations like that.”
Neither team was able to put any shots on frame from there, and both the Trojans and Aviators fell into a tie for second place in the American North standings.
The Trojans have one more tuneup Saturday at Bellefontaine before hosting Tippecanoe on Oct. 3 with the division on the line.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.