Truman edges rival Bears in battle of goalkeepers

By Michael Smith
The Examiner

It was the battle of goalkeepers in Thursday’s Noland Road boys soccer rivalry matchup between William Chrisman and Truman.

Truman senior Francisco Bonilla and Chrisman junior Javier Merino made save after save, making it difficult for their opponents to score. It came down to a penalty kick midway through the second half. Patriots senior midfielder Alan Romero broke the scoreless tie by sneaking a shot past Merino for a 1-0 Suburban Middle Six victory at Truman.

“We just stayed compact and didn’t get disorganized,” Bonilla said. “I had to step up and go out there with everything I got. We knew we had to go harder than last game (a 2-0 loss to Chrisman). Every time I have to go harder no matter what.”

Truman (8-7, 6-2 Middle Six), which has won six out of its last eight games, is now tied for the lead in the Middle Six with Belton, and will have a chance to win the conference outright if it can win its last two games against the Pirates and Grain Valley.

“At the beginning of the season, we came out hard, but we played harder teams, too,” Bonilla said of his team’s 2-5 start to the season. “That’s what helped us a lot because we knew we had to improve.”

And the Patriots are in this position thanks in large part to the play of Bonilla, who had seven saves.

“(Francisco) had a big save in the first half on a point-blank header,” Truman coach Manny Tovar said. “It was a quick-reaction save. This was probably the best game that we have seen from him.”

However, there is still room for improvement, Tovar added.

“His reactions have gotten a lot better (since the beginning of the year),” Tovar said. “He still has to work on being a bit more physical when he comes out. But making the right choices is something we have talked to him about.”

What makes things a little more challenging for Bonilla is the fact that Truman only has three players on the back line, giving him less protection when the other team has the ball in the Patriots’ third of the field.

“A lot of teams play with four (on the back line),” Tovar said. “There’s a lot of different things that we do. Our defense reacted very well and played how we wanted them to.”

On the other side, Merino had a handful of saves, including one on a penalty kick attempt by Truman junior Omar Cano. Merino guessed right to stop the shot.

Romero made sure Truman wouldn’t miss a second chance on his PK as he punched it inside the left post.

“I picked a side and stuck with it,” Romero said. “I didn’t want to panic or anything like that. I just picked the bottom left corner and it went in.”

But that didn’t take away from the stellar game Merino had as he helped shut down Truman’s offense for the most part. The Patriots controlled possession for most of the game but couldn’t finish clean chances inside the 18-yard box and the junior goalkeeper was a big reason for that.

“We have a good defense – all of our conference wins are shutouts,” said Chrisman coach Justin Schmidt, whose team dropped to 9-8 overall and 5-3 in the conference. “Javier doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves. I have seen a lot of teams around the area and a lot of goalkeepers. I personally think that he is one of the best, if not the best goalkeeper in the area.”

It wasn’t easy getting past Chrisman’s back line either.

“(Chrisman) is pretty physical and tall in the back,” Romero said. “It was hard to win aerial balls from them. But we were able to outpace them and get behind the defense.”