EAST LAKE — In the span of 30 minutes, Countryside’s mentality changed from “we can win this game” to “maybe we can still win this game” to “maybe we can salvage a tie.”
Unfortunately for the Cougars, they were wrong on all three counts.
East Lake took advantage of Countryside’s two second-half red cards — the second leading to the ejection of Cougars coach David Sica — to score a late goal and squeeze by Countryside 1-0 in a nondistrict matchup between two of the county’s best.
Countryside (7-3-1) controlled the majority of the possession in the first half and kept the Eagles on their heels throughout.
But things started to unravel for the Cougars when leading playmaker Nikolai Hammer was given a red card for a challenge with 32 minutes remaining in the game.
Even playing a man down, the Cougars weren’t discouraged. They dug in defensively, determined to preserve a tie or possibly sneak out with a victory.
But with 11:25 to go, Cougars midfielder Kyle Eichof was shown the exit after tussling with an East Lake player following a dead ball. Standing less than 10 feet from the play, Sica pleaded his case and also was red-carded.
With a two-man advantage, East Lake (10-1-2) finally broke through a stingy Cougars’ defense with just more than two minutes left as Brian Gonzalez threaded a perfectly weighted through ball to Nick Patterson in stride.
Patterson finished with precision, slipping a shot around goalkeeper Danny George that grazed the far post before rolling into the goal.
“We just got lucky at the end,” Patterson said. “They made a few fouls that cost them the game pretty much. After the second red card, we knew we had it. We knew we had to do better than a tie.”
Sica said he was asking the referee to confer with his assistant when he was ejected.
“It’s a shame because we deserved better than that,” he said. “Two straight red cards, and that was the game.”