Tue, May 29, 2018 07:38 AM 
URBANDALE - A late, long distance strike from junior Edin Ganic made it 2-1 and was the difference on a warm and breezy night that had the feel of a postseason matchup. But, it was the Merle Hay Cup that had the crowd all fired up. It was club night at Frerich’s Field in Urbandale and there was certainly a good showing from the community including Urbandale Soccer Club, J-Hawks Soccer Club, Johnston Soccer Club and the Johnston Urbandale Soccer Club. The first half was a cagey affair with neither team really threatening, although Johnston did carry the run of play. Both teams looked to vary their approach, but generally looked to play out of the back and possess the ball. Despite the energy from the crowd, there were no clear chances and 0-0 at halftime was a fair score line. After the break, Urbandale worked their way onto the field a couple of minutes prior to kickoff, while Johnston stayed in the locker room until the last seconds before the whistle. The feeling of the game didn’t immediately change, but while the rhythm of the game continued, both teams started to generate some chances. Then, after a broken set piece, the ball popped out to sophomore Matthew Richards, who ripped it into the far top corner with a great right-footed strike. The 1-nil lead wouldn’t last long, however, with Johnston responding immediately by ramping up their intensity and communication. After some sustained attacking pressure, it was a Johnston corner kick that drew them level. Good service from senior Derrick Beckman was met with a towering header from senior defender Spencer Collison. Tied at 1-1, the crowd was buzzing. The game appeared destined for extra time with some excellent defending from both sides, including an incredible goal line clearance from Urbandale sophomore defender Moise Ndatabaye. Despite the Dragons really pushing for the winner, it was Urbandale’s Edin Ganic who cleared (shot?) the ball from inside his own half nearly 70 yards into the Dragons’ goal. It wasn’t quite Sportscenter Top 10 material after bouncing over the goalkeeper, but it will go down in Merle Hay Cup history as an amazing game winner. To the Dragons’ credit, they never gave up and threatened to equalize more than once in the final minutes. The J-Hawks will feel good about winning their third consecutive Merle Hay Cup and they will want to keep their momentum as they host Mason City on Thursday before traveling to top ranked and undefeated Valley next Tuesday. Then it’s off to sub-state, where Urbandale finds itself in a difficult group with Ankeny Centennial, Ames, Des Moines Lincoln, Indianola and Marshalltown. Johnston, on the other hand, still has four games to play, including Marshalltown this Thursday at home. The Dragons’ path to the state tournament requires navigating a tough substate draw that includes Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln, Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson, Dowling Catholic, Southeast Polk and Waukee. Be sure to check out the Kick It Forward Twitter feed @kick_forward and Facebook page @kickitforwardia for highlights of the game.