After a rough start and then dealing with some adversity later on, the day closed on a much better than expected note for the Flathead Force Green 08 boys soccer team at the Three Blind Refs Tournament.
Sammy Creer finished one of his team’s rare second-half scoring opportunities as time was running out with a nice touch-shot from the right side that he buried into the lower corner of the net to give the Force a 3-3 tie with the Sting Timbers of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on Saturday afternoon at Kidsports Complex.
The Force held a 2-1 edge at the half on goals by Gavin Tyron and Liam Breding, but the Timbers dominated play in the final half with the wind at their backs and capitalized twice for a 3-2 advantage.
Scoring for the Timbers were Milo Grieble, Reece Crawford and Preston Samoyoa.
The Force was thoroughly outplayed in its opener, however, falling to Calgary 9-1.
“That tie was good for them, for their confidence and morale,” Force coach Mike Stephan said.
“It was in the last minute (game-tying score).
“The wind plays a big factor with this age group.”
Other than the steady gusts all-day long, sunny skies and cool temperatures made for a tolerable day on the pitch for the 132 participating teams, boys and girls ages U9 to U19 from three states and two Canadian provinces, in the 25th edition of this event.
The tie also finished off a busy day of coaching for Stephan. His Flathead Force 09 boys went 2-0 by beating the Sting 7-5 and the Missoula Strikers Black 4-1.
His 9-year-old son Madrid Stephan scored two goals in each game for the Force.
“I don’t know,” he said of how many coaches at this tournament were coaching two teams the same day. “Just me as far as I know. I’m crazy enough to do it. I love both teams, all the kids, they’re awesome.”
Stephan says he’s able to pull off his double-sideline activities with the help of two great assistant coaches.
“Between us three (coaches) we have 20 kids,” he said for practices. “We place them in three groups and play a lot of games, dribbling games, passing games.
“I’ve coached a lot of these kids for two, three years,” he continued.
“It’s been fun to watch their progress and to see how much they love the game.”
Both his teams will have at least one test today, when play resumes at 8 a.m. The championship matches, in all divisions, take place at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m.
Stephan’s other two children — 11-year-old Mikail and 12-year-old Mia — are also playing in this tournament on Force teams.
“I get to see them play sometimes, most all the time,” he said of splitting his coaching and fan duties on Saturday.
“This is special for me because I played in the first Three Blind Refs,” he said.
Stephan was 13 back then and played for the Flathead Force. The tournament was held at the soccer fields on Airport Road.
“I don’t remember it very well, but I was there,” he said.
“It’s pretty unreal, good to see,” he said of how this event has expanded over the years.
“Teams from Calgary, Coeur d’Alene ... getting the competition here is awesome.”
This was the second tournament of the season for his two Force squads. Both were in Helena last weekend with the Force 09 placing second. Madrid Stephan scored 10 goals in that tournament.
Mike Stephan was an all-conference soccer player at Polson High School. He later played at Flathead Valley Community College.
There will be more soccer action at Kidsports Complex this weekend with the Montana State Cup. That event is the finale for the spring season.
Play will begin Friday and end Sunday.
More than 100 teams will be competing in U13-U19 age divisions from Billings, Butte, Bozeman, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, Missoula and Whitefish.
The Montana State Cup was in Billings last year.