STRONGSVILLE - For years, Amherst boys soccer coach Brett Thompson has asked Strongsville coach Tobey Cook to play a regular-season game against the Comets. Thompson has "begged," he says.
Each time, Cook responded by offering to scrimmage. And Thompson doesn't blame him, nor sugarcoat the reason why: The improving Comets just weren't up to par with the Mustangs, who traditionally are one of Northeast Ohio's best teams.
The Comets made it on the Mustangs' schedule this year - and may not be welcome back. Thompson pointed to those scrimmages - 8-0 four years ago, then getting closer each time - in his comments to his players after Amherst beat Strongsville 2-1 on Saturday night.
"They've been strong for years, and why would they play us back then?" Thompson said. "I wanted to get these teams on our schedule. I want to beat those teams and be competitive with them.
"Some of (our players) were playing JV or watching in the stands back then. I told them, this is where you have to be. This is your measuring stick."
And the Comets (6-1) measure up fine. The teams played evenly for the much of the first half, but the Comets nearly broke the scoreless tie in the 35th minute - and did two minutes later.
In the 35th minute, Marcus Schmitz's cross found Connor Klekota, who headed it past charging Strongsville goalkeeper Matt Stephano. The Mustangs' Bryan Wolanski, though, cleared the ball just before it crossed the goal line.
Two minutes later, the same Comets connected, with the roles reversed. Klekota beat a Mustang defender along the sideline with a nifty back heel move, drove toward the end line and fed Schmitz, whose left-footed shot beat a shifting Stephano. The goal came after Strongsville had two good chances inside the Comet penalty area in the minutes before.
In the 52nd minute, Klekota found Schmitz with a through ball, and Schmitz lobbed one for Klekota inside the penalty area. Klekota beat Stephano with a pinpoint header for his seventh goal.
"Connor and I have been playing together for a long time," said Schmitz, who recorded his third goal and fourth assist. "We were feeling it today, and played well together."
But Thompson said the 2-0 edge may have been the worst thing, as the Comets may have let off the gas and allowed Strongsville to rebound. Three minutes after Klekota's goal, the Mustangs cut the lead to one as Chris Mir Sallimi's long cross beat the Amherst defense. Jared Abston settled it around the 6-yard box and rifled a shot past keeper Maximo Meggitt.
Strongsville (2-5-2) kept the pressure on, with two more chances in the next five minutes: Another long cross came in over the Comets back line, but Meggitt saved Brandon Lumsden's point-blank shot. Mir Sallimi then won a free kick from the corner, and his cross went off a Mustang body and just wide.
Despite the late pressure, Amherst held on, content to pack in its defense and play conservatively the rest of the way and show again how far the program has come.
"Back then, we weren't allowed to play (Strongsville)," said Klekota, a Notre Dame recruit who has played varsity all four years. "Their sense of tradition is what we are trying to build here, and to see that we've reached their level and surpassed it for one night is a big victory."
Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amherst 2, Strongsville 1
• GOALS: (A) Marcus Schmitz (37th), Connor Klekota (52nd); (S) Jared Abston (55th).
• ASSISTS: (A) Connor Klekota; (S) Chris Mir Sallimi.
• SHOTS: Amherst 15, Strongsville 7.
• SHOTS ON GOAL: Amherst 7, Strongsville 4.
• SAVES: (A) Maximo Meggitt 3, (S) Matt Stephano 5.
• CORNER KICKS: Amherst 5, Strongsville 1.
• GOAL KICKS: Amherst 7, Strongsville 10.
• OFFSIDE: Amherst 0, Strongsville 0.
• FOULS: Amherst 5, Strongsville 9.
• HALFTIME: Amherst, 1-0.
• JUNIOR VARSITY: Strongsville, 3-0.