“The wall was taking up the left half of the goal,” Clein, a junior forward, said. “I saw the right half, and most keepers expect an inward-bending ball. I realized an outward-bending ball off the outside of my foot would avoid the wall and hopefully find the back of the net.”
Clein’s strategy worked perfectly. he struck the ball from about 21 yards out and bent it just inside the right post past a diving Jensen for the winning goal as Bangor topped Edward Little 4-2 Saturday in physical battle with a playoff feel.
“That was an intense game for sure,” Bangor coach Billy Shannon said. “(Edward Little) responded well in the first half to the two early goals we got, and it made it a little bit nerve wracking. We had to make some adjustments in the second half.”
The Rams remain unbeaten with the win (7-0-2), though as teams in Eastern Class A continue to push through the middle part of the season, the top of the standings continue to compress.
“The East, in particular this year, the top five or six teams are pretty string, and it could be anybody’s game,” Shannon said. “We knew coming down here it could be anybody’s game, and it was a really tough matchup.
“It’s really wide open this year,” EL coach Matt Andreasen said. “It’s the closest it’s been in my three years here. I think there are a couple of teams closer to the top, and that we’re right in there behind them. We’ve done well, we’ve won the games we’re supposed to win. Now we need to find a way to take that next step and start knocking some of the top teams off.”
The Red Eddies (6-3-1) looked every bit one of the region’s top teams in flashes Saturday, but not early on.
“We got the game under control, and we started to string together passes,” Clein said. “That settled them down and allowed us to play the way we like to play and put some balls in the net.”
Clein and Javon Myers netted a goal each in the opening 18 minutes to put the visitors on top 2-0.
Faced with the early deficit, the Eddies roared back by creating space in the midfield and feeding their speedy forwards with accurate crosses.
Maslah Hassan netted the first EL goal to cut the Bangor lead in half. With 14:02 to play in the opening frame, Hassan beat Bangor keeper Stanley Clarke to the ball at the top of the box. He chipped it to himself, and from a tough angle lobbed it at the cage. The ball grazed the left post and banked in off the right post.
Hassan set up the tying goal in the final minute of the half. With the Bangor midfield napping as the clock ticked down, EL moved the ball into the Rams’ end after a quick throw in. Hassan cut to center with the ball and found Tyler Morin on the left post with a perfect dish. Morin touched the ball into the net to send the game into the half all square.
“The second half, we were talking about organization and communications with the backs,” Shannon said. “You get (Hassan) with the ball in open space, he’s a playmaker, whether he’s the one finishing or he’s passing it off to someone else. We talked about cleaning up our back four.”
After another bout of pressure early in the second half from EL, the Rams regrouped. With play at the top of the box in congestion, Bangor drew a foul, setting up Clein’s free kick.
“I thought we were all over it to start the second half,” Andreasen said. “We just didn’t have that finishing kick.”
“We definitely had to step it right back up,” Clein said.
The Red Eddies pressed again in the late-going, but Bangor fought them off.
“This has been a recurring theme for us,” Andreasen said. “It seems like we run out of steam later in games. We put so much effort into those first 50 or 60 minutes, the kids seem to run out of gas later. we need to do a better job of preserving our energy.”
A late corner kick for EL prompted Andreasen to pull Jensen — easily the tallest player on the field by at least two inches — into the offensive box for a chance at a header in close.
“It’s not worth it to play to lose by a goal,” Andreasen said. “Maybe with him up there, something happens in the box, and I think it did alter the way their goalie looked at the play.”
Bangor thwarted the attempt, and ultimately popped in an insurance marker with 1:06 to play to ice the contest.
The Rams next face winless Cony before returning south to square off against fellow unbeaten Eastern A rival Lewiston. The Eddies travel to Messalonskee and Hampden Academy for their next two before finishing the season with a pair of home games.