For the Thomas Jefferson Raiders boys soccer program, the first game of a new season is a big deal.
It’s an opportunity for the storied program to show its opponents the work it takes to win eight state championships. Furthermore, in 11 seasons under manager Dave Hanson, Jefferson has never lost a season opener — until now.
The 2017 Raiders looked nothing like the dominant program they’ve become after dropping this year’s opener 1-0 to the Mount Rainier Rams Tuesday at Federal Way Memorial Stadium.
While the loss broke Hanson’s streak, he said the loss could have been avoided had Jefferson not broken its golden rule.
“Discipline,” Hanson said. “I had a team that showed up a half hour too late. Discipline. For a team that’s loaded with seniors, we sure didn’t play like it.”
The Raiders (0-1-0) come into the new season with 14 seniors, but their two senior leaders Ibrahim Yusef and Diego Pineda-Topete did not suit up for the game, and the Rams (1-0-0) took advantage from kickoff.
Mount Rainier took control of the game for good in the 36th minute when junior midfielder Michael Fikadu headed the game’s lone goal past Jefferson goalkeeper Alfred-Amir Ra’oof off of a corner kick.
The ball was corner kicked into the box by Mount Rainier captain Austin McGlothern, and the ball caromed off two Raider players before Fikadu lunged in and secured the ball into the net.
“I really thought that Mount Rainier was going to smack us pretty good,” Hanson said. “They’re pretty loaded as a team, and have good, quality players, and they’re younger than us.”
Jefferson was lucky to go into halftime down just 1-0. The Rams controlled the possession at 70 percent through the first 40 minutes. Ra’oof was the lone bright spot for the Raiders despite surrendering the goal. The senior converted 3-of-4 saves in the first half.
Mount Rainier senior forward Briskans Shibale proved to be a challenge for the Raider back four through the first half. Both of his shots on target nearly went past Ra’oof for goals but both went just wide.
Jefferson’s senior keeper was even better in the second half despite not getting any help.
Ra’oof made two critical saves that should have resulted in Mount Rainier goals. The first came in the 55th minute when a Raider turnover resulted in a breakaway chance for Shibale. Shibale snuck the ball under Ra’oof’s right side, but the ball bounced off the right goal post and went straight between the goalkeeper’s legs for the save.
Ra’oof’s final big save of the night came in the 72nd minute after yet another Jefferson turnover. This time, Fikadu had a breakaway opportunity. The midfielder ripped a shot and Ra’oof somehow stuck his right arm out and deflected the ball out of play for a Rams corner kick.
“He was a little scary at times, but he made some good saves,” Hanson said of Ra’oof. “He’s one hell of an athlete. He’s just so athletic.”
Hanson takes pride in winning, particularly season-opening games. He’s never lost an opener as a head coach at either Jefferson or Mount Rainier prior to Tuesday. Hanson said he doesn’t keep track of the record, but said he knows he lost at least one opener when he coached as an assistant at Federal Way.
Hanson’s didn’t make excuses for the rare blunder. For the discipline problems, he had the team running lines after the loss.
Hanson hoped to run out the discipline problems that created a world of dysfunction in the loss to the Rams. He said the faster Jefferson can get back to obeying its golden rule, the less time it will take for the pride it lost to resurface.
“They’ve got a lot to prove to me,” Hanson said. “They told me they’re not dysfunctional, but, after this, we’ll wait and see.”