Photo courtesy of Don Borin/Stop Action Photography Issaquah senior forward Jack MacDonald celebrates after scoring a goal in the 39th minute of play against the Mercer Island Islanders. Issaquah defeated Mercer Island 2-1 on March 15 in a non-league matchup.

Eagles conquer Islanders in non-league soccer showdown

The Issaquah Eagles made a statement in their season opener against Mercer Island in a non-league boys soccer matchup.

The Eagles’ defense fended off a second-half Mercer Island rally, earning a 2-1 win against the Islanders on March 15 at Gary Moore Stadium in Issaquah.

Mercer Island, who earned second place at the Class 3A state tournament last season, is one of the top soccer programs in Washington.

“Just to play well against them and hold them to one goal is big because they are so good,” Issaquah head coach Kyle Tatro said. “They are well-coached and have a lot of great players.”

The Eagles got on the board in the 39th minute on a Jack MacDonald goal. In the second half, Charlie Butler scored an insurance goal in the 53rd minute after receiving a sensational pass from teammate MacDonald. MacDonald’s cross from the right side of the field hit Butler in stride before he put the ball in the back of the net.

“I think they were talking at halftime, saying if the opportunity arises to look for that, and low and behold there it was. [MacDonald] found him with a great pass. Charlie [Butler] just has a knack for making good runs and making plays,” Tatro said.

The Islanders wouldn’t surrender quietly. Mercer Island senior forward Jackson Kelly scored in the 56th minute, cutting Issaquah’s lead to 2-1. The Islanders played the majority of the final five minutes of the contest in Issaquah territory but were unable to tie the game in the closing moments.

“They stepped up. They knew what was on the line and they wanted to win the game. They really put us under pressure,” Tatro said. “We need to do a better job of maintaining our composure in a situation like that. There were too many hectic moments for us.”

Mercer Island head coach Colin Rigby said his team, who has just four starters returning from the 2016 season, is still trying to find its way during early-season action.

“This has been a molding preseason. The focus has been on trying to build chemistry with a lot of new guys. That has been the No. 1 thing we are working on. We use these preseason games to give everybody a chance and to look at who plays well with each other. We are still trying to come up with that final product of the starting lineup and to see what is going to work for our team and our program,” Rigby said. “We got a very systematic way of playing. We like to play on the ground and we like to possess the ball. When you play like that, you have to have players that understand each other and can communicate with each other in an easy way. That is not easy to do in 10 days.”

Rigby said the core of last year’s team graduated this past June.

“When you have a major spine of the team being gone from last year, you have to make up for it with time, so time will tell. We just told the guys if they want to continue to have the success that we’ve had over the years, that they have to trust the system. They are doing that right now. They will continue to get better every game. We’re excited for it,” Rigby said.

Tatro said the coaching staff and his players will review the game film from their matchup against the Islanders with a focus on improving their play.

“There will be a lot of positives to take away from this game. This is a good win but right now it is all about how much we can improve. We need to find out our strengths and figure out our weaknesses,” Tatro said.

Rigby is confident his team will get on track as the season progresses.

“We got great talent and we just need to put it together. We have an incredible defense and an incredible midfield,” he said. “When we finally get our cohesiveness it is going to be very fun to watch and dangerous for opponents for sure. I give a lot of credit to our defense right now. They are solid as a rock.”