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Two 'birds' to peck for perch in section 2A boys soccer final

Senior attacker Graham Dahl, right, picks up the ball from junior midfielder Jose Hernandez during Willmar's first-round win over Hutchinson on Oct. 10 at Kennedy Field. The Cardinals have gotten scoring production from each of the mids and forwards. Tribune file photo by Rand Middleton

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Cardinals have a score to settle within their species.

A year ago this week, the underdog Fairmont Cardinals winged up to Kandiyohi County, beat the favored home-town Cardinals in their own nest 3-2 and then soared home.

This time the Willmar birds are the lower seed (No. 5) and will migrate south to Martin County to play the No. 1 Fairmont birds in the Section 2A boys soccer semifinal round.

Fairmont is 16-1 and is rates first in the 15-team pod according to the's cold-blooded QRF rankings. Overall, among the 119 Class A programs Fairmont stands eighth while Willmar is tied for 29th.

Cardinal coach Jeff Winter has been able to scout the southern Cardinals.

"They're strong overall," stated Winter in an email. "Their key players are the center- midfielder and center-forward. They will do a lot of drop passes; they've drawn a lot of penalty kicks."

Willmar is in the 2A final 4 for the fourth time in five falls; the 2008 team won the section championship.

Not much separates Willmar and Fairmont. Both teams won an overtime game with Worthington, the No. 4 seed which Willmar sent packing in the quarterfinals. Another common opponent New Ulm, fell 4-1 to Fairmont and 5-3 to Willmar.

Beginning mid-season, Winter noticed that the squad started showing "some fire, some desire ... and more confidence in their teammate."

Sophomore goalie Charlie Trochlil had a huge game against Worthington (a 2-1 shootout) filling in for injured Joaquin Espinoza. If Espinoza successfully passes a concussion test, either one could start at Fairmont.

Midfielder Cesar Jimenez, one of seven seniors, is Willmar's top scorer with 20 goals and 10 assists.

"Every one of our midfielders and forwards has contributed and each one of them is a scoring threat," points out Winter.

Willmar's 13 victories duplicates the 13 wins in '09-10 and is second only to 14 in '08-09 when the Cardinals lost 2-0 to Blake in the state quarterfinals at St. Cloud.

In the opposite bracket today, No. 3 Mankato West (13-4-1) takes on cross-town rival Mankato East (12-5-1) at Kennedy Elementary.... yes, that is same name as the Willmar pitch.

The section final will be played at the high seed on Thursday.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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