Lakers' winning streak hits six games
DETROIT LAKES - Good chemistry is based on effective formulas and so far this season, the Detroit Lakes boys' soccer team has all the right answers.
The Lakers eclipsed a team record with their sixth consecutive win Tuesday night on the DL Rotary Soccer Complex, a 2-0 victory over visiting Crookston to improve to 7-2-1 on the season.
It came at an opportune time, as well, since the home game was to be DL's last one until the start of the playoffs, with the Lakers' final six games all being on the road -- including this weekend's three-game West Fargo Tournament.
The key to the Lakers' success hasn't been a bevy of goals or their usual stringent defense; instead, it's been the team's chemistry on and off the field.
"We just have awesome team chemistry," said senior forward Victor Wilkins, who assisted on DL's first goal Tuesday night. "Our mentality is to just win and do better than the all-time team record of 12-5, that's our bar this year."
Senior right midfielder Brandon Johnson, with the help of Wilkins, broke the scoreless tie 10:30 into the first half on a nice combination between the two Lakers.
Wilkins was able to take a bouncer off his chest and deliver the ball out of midair to an open Johnson, who was streaking down the right side.
Johnson, in turn, stopped the ball with his body and was able to chip his shot over the goalie for the 1-0 lead.
"Brandon was yelling at me to get him the ball, so I got him the ball," Wilkins said.
"We were able to catch the defense out of position, and Victor's pass opened up some space for me and I was just able to get the shot over the goalie," Johnson said.
The insurance tally came in the second half, when Brandon Baker took on the Crookston defense himself, dribbling through three defenders and past the goalie for the 2-0 advantage.
"That was nice, to see the control Brandon Baker had on that goal," said DL head coach Justin Wegleitner. "He played it well."
That would be more than enough for senior goalie Danny Engberg, who recorded his fifth shutout in seven starts this season.
Engberg has put much trust in his defensive unit of Charlie Smith and Joe Thompson -- among others -- which has allowed the speedy goalie to cover more of the field.
"The defense picks up a lot, so I have a lot of trust in them," Engberg said. "They have a lot of blocked shots themselves and also, getting an early lead helps us relax back on defense a bit."
The offensive attack has been bolstered by that team chemistry Wilkins talked about. The transition between the midfield and attackers has been key, allowing them to run smoothly through the six-game winning streak.
"We've been working on passing to set up good shots," Wilkins said. "We are producing better shots than our opponents. We are playing a different game of soccer in that we are playing precise and slow soccer."
The precision of controlling possession at midfield has taken pressure off the defense and added it to the opponents' zone and goalkeepers.
In the Crookston victory, the Lakers had seven different players take shots on goal, making their offensive attack versatile.
"It's great to see the many different variations of our attack," Wegleitner said. "At the beginning of the season, our weakness was that we were just looking for through balls to put a shot on net.
"But now, we are playing for combination passes and looking for crossing and finishing shots from the outside. We have Baker with his speed, Wilkins with his aerial capability, Brandon Johnson on the outside with speed and strength, plus the ability to open up midfielder Jon Carter, who is a great technician."
Add in the fact the Lakers also have the capability to have scoring from their defense with Thompson and Charlie Smith, who has an effective deep shot to help create rebound opportunities.
It's an attack which can create plenty of chaos on the other team's goalie.
"We just have so many different ways to score now," the DL coach added.
The confidence is also blossoming on the team, which is adding to the strong chemistry. "We are going out not to just stay in games, but to win them," Johnson added.
And so far this season, winning has been coming right along for the Lakers -- who are 3-1-0 in section play, putting them easily in the top half of the section.
The Lakers will open the West Fargo Tournament Friday against Minot, N.D., at 5:30 p.m. and continue at 9 a.m. Saturday against Jamestown, finishing at 1 p.m. against Bismarck St. Mary's, which has one of the top goalies in North Dakota.
"We just need to keep up our variations of attack, that will be key," Wegleitner said.
Lakers win ugly in nasty conditions
When Wegleitner was walking across the field to shake hands with the Shanley coach after DL's 3-2 victory Saturday, it wasn't too safe.
"It was like walking on the ice after a hockey game," Wegleitner said. "The field was so messy and slippery."
The Lakers played through those bad conditions to rally back from a 2-1 deficit for a 3-2 win.
Goals by David Jonason, Smith and Baker closed the door on Shanley's chances -- despite DL being called for seven yellow cards.
"I was proud of the guys, who were able to take a lot out of the game with all the adversity it had," Wegleitner said. "I didn't agree how the ref(eree) called the game, (with) us having seven yellow cards to Shanley's one. And the footing was bad due to the weather conditions. So the guys fought through a lot of adversity."
But the Lakers eventually overcame adversity, after trailing 2-1 at halftime.
DL took more possession of the ball in the second half, leading up to Smith's 45-yard shot, which never leveled over eight yards off the ground.
"I've been preaching to the guys to keep their shots low and not shoot it over the net," the DL coach said. "That was a great shot."
With six minutes left in the game, the apparent game-winning goal looked to have gone in for DL, after Wilkins found Baker in the penalty area.
But an offsides call negated the score, though Wegleitner said there wasn't anyone offsides. "The guys, to their credit, stayed calm and poised," he stated.
That calmness led to another nice goal by Baker, who completed a half-bicycle kick on net for the win, with just 30 seconds remaining in the game.