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Stead finds out whos ready to lead the way

by: Vern Uyetake, Lake Oswego’s Nic Watson, center, goes high for a header during the Lakers non-league against Grant on Tuesday. Despite having an advantage in time of possession, the Lakers had to settle for a 2-2 tie with both goals scored by sophomore Jackson Ray.

Colin Stead wasn't sure what to expect as he headed into his third season as Lake Oswego's boys soccer coach. The Lakers enjoyed great success during his first two years, including a trip to the state semifinals in 2004, but many of the players from last two teams are now gone.

In some respects, this should be a rebuilding year for the Lakers. But Stead has fielded another good team, albeit it a young one, and he fully expects the Lakers to contend with Lakeridge for a league title.

'I'm looking at this season as a challenge … But we're still aiming for first place,' Stead said.

The biggest question heading into the season was who would replace Grant Engrav, the talented center-midfielder who graduated last spring. But, the year before, there were questions about who would replace Tracy Hasson, an Olympic development player, at the center-midfield position.

Well, the answer to this year's riddle is Conor McWade, a senior who has a game similar to Engrav's. With just one preseason game under his belt, McWade is already looking like one of the better players in the Three Rivers League.

Also playing an important role for the Lakers will be junior defender-midfielder Nick Watson, who Stead calls 'one of the better players in the state for his age.

'When he decides he's going to beat someone, he's going to,' the coach said.

Watson's greatest moment to date might have come when he was a freshman playing in the state quarterfinals. He was asked to mark top-ranked South Eugene's high-scoring forward tandem. Watson wound up tossing a shutout to help Lake Oswego advance to the semis.

After McWade and Watson, Stead wasn't sure who his top players would be going into the season. But Stead knew he had enough talented players on the roster that someone was bound to shine.

'It will be fun to see which ones step up,' Stead said the day before his team's season-opener against Grant.

After settling for a 2-2 tie against the Generals, it was pretty clear that sophomore forward Jackson Ray will be an important part of this year's team. All Ray did was score both of his team's goals Tuesday night, and he easily could have had another one.

Then there was freshman Rio Asai, who assisted on both of Ray's tallies. Because of his age and his relative lack of experience, there was a question about how much playing time Asai would see this season. Well, those questions seemed to be answered on Tuesday. He'll probably be playing a lot this year.

'He's one of the more skilled young players in the state,' Stead said of Asai.

Also playing well against Grant were senior Cam Yates, junior Danny MacNaughton, sophomore MacGregor Hodgson, sophomore Troy Hall and junior goalkeeper Greg Filmore.

At times, Filmore made goalkeeping an adventure as he roamed far from his net to stop Grant breakaways. Each time, with the exception of one occasion, Filmore made the right choice and probably kept Grant off the scoreboard in the process. The other time, though, he wound up getting caught out of position and had to scramble to make an impressive save from behind.

Afterwards, Stead said he loved Filmore's daring style and doesn't want him to ever change.

'He's aggressive and he comes out well,' the coach said. 'That's one thing that I demand from the keepers … I'd rather have them give up a goal playing that way than to be too timid.'

Throughout Tuesday's game, Lake Oswego appeared to have the more skilled side. But the Lakers seemed to get distracted at times, especially when Grant turned up its physical play. When both teams played straight up, Lake Oswego usually got the best of it.

'(The Lakers) didn't have a ton of really nice things to say about the other team,' Stead reluctantly admitted. 'They didn't think they were all that good, skill wise … But it shows that a team doesn't have to be all that skilled to play with them. Two-two is what matters.'

That 2-2 score also showed that a team playing a physical style, like Grant, can make up for some of its deficiencies. It was especially frustrating when the officials let much of that physical play go.

'Yeah (that style) got to them a little bit,' Stead said of his team.

To Grant's credit, the game remained scoreless for approximately 20 minutes. That's when Asai found Ray cutting down a seam on the left side and Asai threaded a perfect through-pass that led to Lake Oswego's 1-0 lead.

It stayed that way for approximately 40 minutes. Then, Grant got its first goal when the Laker defenders seemed to lose track to who they were marking, and suddenly the ball bounced through traffic and into the net.

'Their first goal was pretty sloppy,' Stead said. 'We should have cleared it away. It shouldn't have been bouncing around like it was.'

Six minutes later, though, Lake Oswego was back on top with a play that was almost a mirror image of Ray's first-half goal. This time, the shot deflected off of the crossbar on the far side before finding the back of the net.

After that goal, the Lakers seemed to relax, maybe figuring a 2-1 lead would hold up. But Grant continued to push forward. Then, with 5:53 left in the contest, Lake Oswego committed a foul just outside of the penalty box. Grant's Sam Oldman then arched a perfectly-placed shot over Filmore's head and into the net.

'Our boys disagreed with the call the ref made. But it's a foul if the ref blows the whistle,' Stead said. 'And (Oldman) hit that shot well.'

Overall, Stead couldn't find too much to complain about for his team's first game of the season.

'I wanted to see a good game, where the boys can really learn and take something away from it,' the coach said. 'This was a good enough game for them to do so.'