EMMETT — Rhys Yeakley isn’t expecting to win a state championship this year.
The Caldwell boys soccer coach’s team could have fooled everyone else. The Cougars took over sole possession of first place in the 4A Southern Idaho Conference by surviving a late rally for a 3-2 win against Emmett, which came in as the league leader, Tuesday night at Donald Gregory Field.
The reigning 4A state champion extended its unbeaten streak to 29 games. Caldwell (6-0-1 overall, 6-0-1 SIC) hasn’t lost since the heartbreaking 2-1 defeat to Wood River in the 2017 4A state title game.
“I always have high expectations, but my expectations are tempered this year,” Yeakley said. “Next year, the year after, the year after that, we’re going to be scary good again. So this year is just about building. If we do something special, that’s awesome. If not, I can live with that. It doesn’t seem like it, but it actually is a rebuilding year for us.”
The Cougars are breaking in 10 new starters this season. Junior midfielder Damian Arguello is the lone holdover from last year’s team that was arguably the best in program history. Caldwell went 20-0-2 on the way to its first state title in 22 years.
But the Cougars are not that far off from a year ago. Through seven games last season, they allowed six goals. It's 11 goals given up so far in 2019. The gap on offense is even less. Caldwell is just two goals (39) behind from where it was at this time last year.
“I get it, that was a good team, and I’ll always be thankful that I was a part of it, but that was then and this is now,” Arguello said. “I’m a part of this team now and I think we’re really good in our own right. I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people even with how young we are.”
Caldwell’s offense was on display early.
Arguello, who set a 4A state tournament record with five goals last year, got it going with a penalty kick goal in the 16th minute to give the Cougars an early 1-0 lead.
But the Huskies (6-1, 6-1) looked like they were going to take back the momentum after Caldwell junior defender Alex Cruz was ejected from the game with a red card for fouling the last defender in the 30th minute. Despite playing with a one-man disadvantage, sophomore forward Danny Torres, Arguello’s cousin, scored back-to-back goals in a four-minute span to suddenly give the Cougars a commanding 3-0 lead at the break.
Torres scored his first goal on a header off a corner kick by sophomore midfielder Clay Walton in the 32nd minute before drilling in a putback from an Arguello shot four minutes later.
“Personally, I’m always staying competitive to my cousin Damian because I know he’s beyond talented,” Torres said. “So just to beat him on goals tonight, just on a personal level, feels amazing.”
The Huskies made it a game late, though.
Following several misses, senior forward Kiko Solis got one to finally go in at the 65-minute mark. After Rylan Tutor misjudged a shot on goal, Solis took the ball off the bounce and flicked it into the corner of the net to get Emmett on the board at 3-1.
Senior defender Renso Orozco missed a wide-open look seven minutes later, but quickly made up for it. Orozco’s second shot on goal deflected off a Caldwell defender before taking an odd bounce over Tutor’s’ head with less than five minutes remaining.
Solis then nearly completed the improbable comeback with a good look with 2:10 left. He spun by his defender and rocketed a shot on goal all in the same motion. But the shot sailed well over the crossbar and out of play leading to Solis falling to his knees in agony while the Cougars ran out the clock.
The loss ended Emmett’s best start in at least a decade. It’s a start that no one, outside of maybe the Huskies, saw coming.
The Huskies began 2019 having not won a single game in two years with a 38-game winless streak. They were outscored 109-22 alone last season. But Emmett came into Tuesday’s first-place showdown against Caldwell having outscored its opponents 20-6.
“Our seven seniors decided they weren’t going out like that,” Emmett coach Aristeo Alvizo said. “The last two years were really hard on everyone. No one wants to go through something like that. So to see the way they’ve responded to that, makes me keep on wanting to do what I love. And they did it again tonight. Even though we lost, I’m really proud of their effort.”
Tutor recorded seven saves in goal for Caldwell.