The Maryville Christian boys soccer team is undoubtedly young with just one senior on its roster. But entering its fourth year in existence as a program, Greenback is also in the process of gaining valuable experience.
That made Thursday night’s game between the two teams a good test for the programs, which had never before met. Maryville Christian’s Dean Bailey proved to be the difference maker in the evenly-matched contest. The sophomore forward scored both of the Eagles’ goals to lead them past the Cherokees, 2-0, at Greenback.
“He’s one of my bigger kids, so he’s supposed to finish,” Maryville Christian coach Geoff Hamm said of Bailey. “We’re a young, small team figuring out how to play against these bigger teams, and we did that in the first half.”
Maryville Christian (1-3) took a 1-0 edge into halftime against the Cherokees (4-3) after Bailey got fed the ball in front of Greenback’s goal. With his left foot, he fired a low hard shot into the bottom right corner to put the Eagles on the board 15 minutes into the game.
Greenback coach Rob Fox said he expected Maryville Christian to boast more skill than his relatively new squad.
“This is our fourth season, and there’s a big asterisk because of COVID,” Fox said, referencing the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. “I knew (Maryville Christian) came in here with a lot more soccer skill and a lot more experience at playing with soccer skills, so we had a steep hill to climb. But I also think that we have gotten better.”
With seven minutes remaining in the first half, the Cherokees began to create opportunities of their own despite Maryville Christian largely controlling possession until that point. Greenback’s Paul Pifer gave the Eagles a scare when he broke loose down the field in transition after they failed to capitalize on a pair of corner kicks. While approaching the left post, Pifer fired off a shot aimed for the bottom right corner — Greenback’s first shot on goal. But Maryville Christian goalkeeper Caleb Brown got enough of his hands on the ball to slow it down before eventually collecting it to eliminate the threat.
Noah Pifer accounted for Greenback’s only other shot on goal in the first half.
“Certainly, having the Pifer brothers on our team has been a big, big asset for us,” Fox said of the former Maryville Christian duo who transferred to Greenback. “This team, so far, has impressed me with how they get after it. Even when we’ve gotten beaten pretty badly, we never quit.”
Greenback came out of halftime on the attack with three early shots on goal, but the Cherokees were never able to get those opportunities to translate on the scoreboard.
Maryville Christian got back to work with less than eight minutes remaining when Bailey got tangled up with a Greenback defender in the box during a corner kick to draw a foul and set up a penalty kick. Bailey buried his shot in the back of the net to give the Eagles some cushion.
“I knew my team had my back, so I just stayed calm and tucked it into the bottom right corner,” Bailey said. “We’ve improved a lot, and we’re playing great together as a team. I’ve got great teammates.”