Prep soccer: Finally at full strength, Duluth East blanks Bemidji
The Greyhounds started the season with several injuries, culminating in a loss at Blaine earlier where they were missing seven of 11 starters.
DULUTH — Midway through the first half in Duluth East’s 4-0 home win over Bemidji Thursday, Callum Greenan scored to give the Greyhounds the lead.
The goal, however, wasn’t exactly what he intended when the ball came to him off a corner kick.
“I play center back, so I don’t get a lot of opportunities,” Greenan said. “But recently, I’ve been pushing up more and taking a lot more set balls…The corner bounced right in front of me and, I’m not gonna lie, I was not aiming for the goal. I completely mishit it and it just looped up and went right in.”
East wasn’t just lucky, however. The team controlled possession and dominated the ball, with senior Grady Downs scoring three minutes later and Evan Craycraft and Pete Onchwari each added goals in the second half.
Greyhound goalkeeper Jack Ringsred needed to make only four saves to preserve the shutout.
After graduating 17 seniors from the 2021 team that ended its season in the Class AAA semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, the Greyhounds are starting with an almost entirely new team and formation.
“We’ve got a new path this year,” coach Corey Bachand said. “We have to play better with the ball, we have to be more protective. We have to play better defense first and then attack. We’re just starting to grow with that and understanding that it’s just a different mindset that we’ve had in the past when we could just attack, attack, attack.”
While Greenan and Downs both have some varsity experience, the majority of the Greyhounds’ roster is playing its first varsity minutes in 2022.
Even more of a challenge, several East starters have been injured in the early going. In their second game of the season — a 4-0 loss to Blaine Aug. 26 — the Greyhounds were without seven of 11 starters.
In fact, Bachand said the game against Bemidji was the first time he had seen all 11 starters on the field together this season.
Onchwari is playing his first varsity minutes for the Greyhounds, but already has two goals and has been a pleasant surprise for Bachand.
“Pete’s kind of this unspoken hero that just gets it done,” Bachand said. “It’s been so nice to have that, too, because he came out of nowhere. I didn’t expect to have him and he’s just getting it done.”
Other than the Blaine loss, the Greyhounds’ new formation has allowed just one goal in four games and Ringsred isn’t being peppered with shots, which is the point, according to Onchwari.
“Our goalie barely had to do anything today,” Onchwari said. “That’s basically our goal — not to let our goalie ever touch the ball and I’d say our formation has done pretty well helping out defense.”
Greenan said he knew it would be different this season, but the East defenders have been stepping up to the challenge.
“Our big thing is just defending in layers,” Greenan said. “We really like to press the forwards high. If they get beat, then we have our midfielders covering and it just keeps going back and back.”
Despite the roster turnover from an extraordinarily talented 2021 team, Bachand thinks the Greyhounds are “right there” in terms of returning to the state tournament for the second straight year.
“It’s just a matter of fine tuning what we need to do and the kids believing in the new concept,” Bachand said. “If they do that, I believe it’s unlimited for us. I really do because we play a certain type that people don’t like to play against and we’re hard defensively. Cal does a great job in the middle and we score when we have the opportunities to crash the new hard.”
Duluth East (4-1) will play Moorhead at home at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.