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Boys soccer: Defense does it for Knights

Grand Forks Central has received most of its offense from senior forward Alex Nagel this season. But it was the Knights defense that generated some points on Tuesday night to blank Grand Forks Red River 3-0 at South Middle School.

Central Red River soccer
Red River's Ahmen Farah (14) leaps over Grand Forks Central goalie Sean Cano after Cano made a stop on Farah's shot in the second half. Herald photo by John Stennes.

Grand Forks Central has received most of its offense from senior forward Alex Nagel this season. But it was the Knights defense that generated some points on Tuesday night to blank Grand Forks Red River 3-0 at South Middle School.

Midfielder Brett Lofthus scored two goals and Nagel scored his 14th of the season on an assist from midfielder Kris Scott. Defender Aaron Muz and midfielder David Sayler assisted on Lofthus' goals.

"We did a good job of getting the team involved in the attack," Central coach Mike Wilber said. "Muz got an assist, (defender) Jake Purpur almost got a goal . . .

"I thought our defense did a really good job of controlling the game."

The win put Central (7-3-2 overall, 3-1-1 Eastern Dakota Conference) in a tie with West Fargo for second place in the EDC with six points each. Fargo South (9-0-1, 4-0-1) is in first with nine points.

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Wilber said the game plan was to get his defense involved in the attack, which proved to be effective against Red River.

"We're trying to get the outside backs involved," he said. "That's something we've been working on a lot this year and it's good to see the guys put it to use."

Central came out aggressive in the first half but didn't capitalize until midway through the half.

At 28 minutes, 39 seconds, Lofthus spun through two defenders and put it past Red River goalie Jake Palmiscno in the back right corner of the net.

Wilber said communication was a key for the Knights.

"That's what we preach," he said. "And productive talk, not just talk. If you can do that early and set the tone, that helps. It's deflating for the other team."

With just less than five minutes remaining in the first half, Nagel beat defenders in a foot race downfield and took a pass from Scott to score.

"We started out with more people in the middle and when we tried to switch to attack mode, our guys didn't do it quite right," Red River coach Paulo Perez said. "That broke the lines and created holes for them."

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Red River was frustrated by the Knights and it started to show in the second half, as the Roughriders racked up penalties.

"When we tried to be tough and fight for the ball, we'd get a foul," Perez said. "So they gave up doing that. That kind of switched our attitude."

Senior Courtney Krueger was given a red card and ejected from the game with 7:31 remaining. Krueger will have to sit out the Roughriders' next game on Monday against Moorhead, as well.

"That disrupts the rhythm of the game a little bit," Wilber said. "It's hard to play when that's happening, and the guys did a good job of staying focused."

The distraction on the field didn't bother Central, as Lofthus scored his second goal of the game on a throw-in from David Sayler 22 seconds later.

"That's one of the things we're able to do with David," Wilber said. "If we can get a throw-in, David can throw it into the box, and Brett was on the back end of it. That's a really good threat for us that most teams don't enjoy."

Red River dropped to 2-8-1.

Palmiscno finished with 10 saves, while Sean Cano made four stops for Central.

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"We keep talking about the importance of possessing and swinging the field," Wilber said. "We start on the right side of the field and swing it all the way to the left, and look to take advantage from there."

That game plan worked for Central, as most of its offensive chances came from the left side of the field.

"They pushed our defensive line way too close to our goal," Perez said. "And by us giving them space at midfield, it started to make holes. They were way faster than us."

Red River Central soccer
Red River goalie Andrew Butkowski makes a save against Grand Forks Central on Tuesday night. Herald photo by John Stennes.

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