South Kitsap’s Grant Larson, as a member of the Oly-Pen Force, chases down a ball against the Vancouver Victory. (Mark Krulish/Kitsap News Group)

South Kitsap’s Grant Larson, as a member of the Oly-Pen Force, chases down a ball against the Vancouver Victory. (Mark Krulish/Kitsap News Group)

Force off to a fast start in the EPLWA

Men’s soccer team off to 3-2-1 start

EAST BREMERTON — It may be summer, but soccer players of the Evergreen Premier League are still hard at work on the training grounds.

The Oly-Pen Force men’s team is off to a 3-2-1 start six games into their nine-game EPL schedule after securing a 5-1 blowout win over, ironically, the Vancouver Victory.

The win keeps the Force in good position to nab one of the two playoff spots out of the Rainier Conference. They are currently tied with PacNW SC for first place and are one point ahead of Washington Premier with three games to go.

“It’s not as serious, but it’s fun,” said former Kingston High School star Alex Hernandez, one of the local players currently playing for the Force. “That mentality is there, though.”

A chippy, physical game went largely in favor of the Force as they were able to take advantage of a couple of Vancouver’s missed assignments.

Rainier Schlekewey connected with forward Joe Sammartino twice in the first half on similar plays. Schelekewey was able to play long through balls right down the middle of the field. The first pass bounced chest-high and Sammartino had to poke it past the keeper with his leg parallel to the ground. The second feed was much cleaner and Sammartino took it on the run past a defender to beat the helpless keeper.

In the 61st minute, Jaisen Zurfluh swung a corner into a good spot in the penalty area for Cole Dobson to get his head on it and flick it into the net to give the Force a 3-1 lead.

Zurfluh scored the final two goals of the game in the last 30 minutes. In the 66th, he took a feed from Eamon Stein and cut across the face of goal and blasted a left-footed strike back against his body to put his team up 4-1. In the 81st minute, he was fouled in the box and subsequently converted on the penalty kick.

On Tuesday, the Force welcomed the Seattle Sounders U23 reserves to the Fairgrounds and got all they could handle. The Sounders led 3-2 halftime in what was a close match, but their speed and skill proved to be too much as they scored the next five goals.

“It was tough,” said Grant Larson, who graduated from South Kitsap last season and now plays at Northwest Nazarene University. “Their speed of play was much faster and their center-mids were much cleaner in getting forward.”

The Sounders opened the scoring in the fourth minute, but the Force drew level just 60 seconds later. During a fastbreak, Schlekewey dished the ball to Mitchell Balmer who had to dribble through one defender and cut to the middle before popping a left-footed strike into the net.

The Force then took a 2-1 lead as Sammartino converted a penalty kick in the 18th minute, but from there on it was all Sounders as they cruised to an 8-2 win.

“They always had three or four or five guys ready to attack and our defense couldn’t handle that much pressure,” Larson said.

Fortunately, the Force won’t face that level of competition in their final three EPLWA games that take place over the next three weekends.

The team hits the road to Spokane on June 29. The Force then take on Washington Premier in Puyallup on July 6 before returning home for their regular season finale against Spokane Shadow at 3 p.m. on July 13 at Gordon Field.

Four teams qualify for the EPLWA playoffs, which begin the weekend of July 20.

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