WILLMAR -- Steve Kluver, the 6-foot-3 senior goalkeeper for the Willmar Cardinals, is quick to deflect credit for his shutout in the Section 2A semifinal.
"I only made four stops," he said Wednesday prior to the team practice at the high school field. "Coach said Badal Ali, our sweeper, played his best match of the year. He cleared the ball every time it got near."
Kluver also credited defender Josh Wright. He marked Mankato East's top player, holding him without a goal in the match.
Willmar's 1-0 win over top-seeded Mankato East put them into today's championship match at Kennedy Elementary's Hodapp Field against Southwest Minnesota Christian at 3 p.m.
It's the first trip to a section final for the Cardinal boys, the No. 5 seed who earlier beat Central Minnesota Christian 4-1 and New Ulm 2-1. Southwest Minnesota Christian, the No. 6 seed, beat No. 7 Mankato West 2-1 in a shootout.
Willmar coach Richard Courtney said his scouting report indicates the Eagles are a ball-possession team, strong defensively with good passing skills.
"They aren't big and physical, like East, but they're fast," said Courtney. "They'll try to possess the ball 70- or 80-percent of the time."
The Cardinals will play without three seniors: starters Trent Fader and Matt Horning and key reserve Chris Van Doren. They signed up a long time ago to go on a church-sponsored humanitarian trip to Florida over break. They left Wednesday morning.
In addition, top scorer Abdinasir Abdi must sit out one game. The junior midfielder received two yellow cards in the semifinal win -- one for "aggressive play" and the other for "excessive celebration" after he tallied the game's only goal.
"Some other kids will just have to step up," said Courtney. "We'll be all right. Those three boys hated to miss this game, but how could they have known that this would happen six months ago when they committed."