Putting the ball in the back of the net had been problematic for the Kansas Wesleyan men’s soccer team.
The Coyotes were scoreless the first 163 minutes of the season, losing to Concordia (Neb.) 4-0 in the season opener, and unable to score against Kansas Conference archrival Bethany the first 73 minutes of their match Saturday night.
First-year coach Miguel Prieto knew it was just a matter of time before his team broke loose, but he could never have imagined the Coyotes would do so the way they did.
Trailing 1-0 late in the second half Artin Almary finally broke through with a header off a corner kick from David Bellin in the 74th minute. What followed was a scoring flurry seldom seen in soccer.
Almary gave KWU a 2-1 lead with a goal in the 80th minute and opened the proverbial flood gates. The Coyotes scored four times in four minutes and pulled away for a 5-1 victory on Senior Night at Graves Family Sports Complex.
Almary, a senior forward from Glendale, Calif., finished with a hat trick – his third goal coming in the 82nd minute. Bellin scored in the 81st minute and David Palacios the 83rd as the Coyotes handed Prieto his first career coaching victory.
“It just took us a while to find it and that’s the sport,” Prieto said. “Sometimes they don’t fall, but you have to be patient and it came. I knew once the first one went in there were a few more. I think the first goal motivated them to go from there. It just woke them up and they took advantage of that and we got the result.”
Almary, a transfer from Pasadena City College two years ago, was happy to just get another match.
“We’ve been waiting a long time to play our first conference game,” he said. “We’ve been practicing hard for a whole year, basically. We’ve conditioned a lot and we knew we could go the entire 90 minutes and just kept fighting to the end. We made it click in those final 15 minutes and got four goals.”
Almary said he and his teammates were able to exhale once they got the equalizer.
“When we got the first one, we realized there was so much time left and we know what we’re capable of,” he said. “We were able to take a breath and definitely got our rhythm going because of that goal.”
It was storybook ending for the Coyotes, who’ve seen their season turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was their first match in 16 days after the virus forced the postponement of three KCAC contests.
“It just felt great to be out on the field tonight,” Almary said.
“These guys were just anxious having almost three weeks without a match,” Prieto said. “It gets a little too repetitive in practice. We’re glad both teams are safe and this was able to happen, and I hope we can all stay safe and continue to play.”
Almary credited his teammates for his big night.
“Full credit to the team, they kept us in the game the whole time,” he said. “We had our chances up front and didn’t put them away, but our defenders and midfielders did a great job keeping us close in the game. We forgot about the previous misses and on to the next play.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment.”
Prieto, who was a student-athlete at KWU two seasons ago and was a graduate assistant under former coach Diego Cocon last season, was thrilled to get his first victory.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “I’m very proud of the guys for fighting the way they did tonight, fighting adversity, staying calm, coming together as a team and pulling off the win.”
KWU outshot Bethany 8-1 during the scoreless first half and finished with 16 shots, eight on goal. Five of Almary’s eight shots were on goal. Goalkeeper Robert Gonzalez recorded two saves.
Bethany (1-2-1) managed just six total shots, three on goal.
KWU’s next scheduled match is against Bethel at 7 p.m. October 10, at Graves Family Sports Complex.