It took until the 87th minute of the match before Central Community College-Columbus men's soccer finally saw its hard work pay off on Sunday in the season opener against the Dakota Wesleyan JV.
With 16 total shots and nine on goal at that point in the match, Central had had its fair share of opportunities. Yet, a 2-on-1, a mini breakaway and everything else had ether flown wide of the post or found the mitts of Dakota Wesleyan goalkeeper Khan Nguyen.
Everything, that is, until midfielder Ethan Bonaparte blasted a shot from just outside the penalty area to the left of Nguyen to the netting. In a scramble that began up the right wing, Anthony Bolanos, who had himself been denied by Nguyen a few times, sent a pass from the end line to Bonaparte who came charging forward after a failed clearance. The dribbler came right to his feet where Bonaparte found the time and space needed to deliver.
"It was a good experience. We worked hard to the end and we got the goal in the last minutes. It was hard, but we came up with the victory, which is most important," Bonaparte said.
He and his teammates held what must have amounted to 80 percent of the possession and were clearly the aggressors but had little to show for it until Bonaparte cashed in.
For the first 45 minutes, a larger, more physical Dakota Wesleyan backline kept Central shots at a distance. The Raiders began to crack that line immediately after halftime with two shots on frame in just the first four minutes of the second half.
The two best opportunities came for Luis Ruiz in the 51st then the 77th minute. His first was a two-on-one that turned into a save when Ruiz held the ball too long and was denied a complete shot by a charging Nguyen.
Later, he came located a booming pass up the field and raced past defenders but fired it just inches into the outside netting.
Bonaparte drew a foul at the edge of the box just two minutes later but put his free kick into the wall. Just before Bonaparte capitalized, Dakota Wesleyan had its only real look on goal and headed a free kick in only to turn around and see the offside flag raised.
"Kind of like I have been saying throughout the preseason, with the number of freshmen we have, it's going to take a little time for us to get chemistry. That's what the attacking part of the field is for, the chemistry," coach Hawken Hanna said. "We have the talent to do it, but need to play a little longer, work out the kinks in the attacking part."
It was no doubt frustrating to be so close so often, but Bonaparte saw it as a good sign that the potential is there. The next step is finishing more often.
"I enjoyed it because we worked hard. There were a lot of chances we didn't take, but we got that one," he said. "It helps us a lot with confidence. We know the next game, we can create opportunities. It's just finding a way to score enough."
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Hanna also believed the bevy of chances was confirmation of the roster he put together and the players who saw minutes. After graduating a large sophomore class, Hanna was forced to bring in nearly 20 freshmen to fill out the lineup.
"A lot of guys are looking good in their spots. We kind of know who our core is, and then we have a good group of guys we can rotate into the game whenever they're needed," he said. "We've had 24 guys training every day at practice, and I'm confident in all 24 guys if they needed to come on the field and play.
"But we definitely know who our core group is. We just need to score some goals now."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.