Chalee Moua had to watch Centennial’s first 14 soccer matches from the sideline this year, recovering from a ruptured achilles tendon suffered last April.
That’s a tough situation for a senior who’s a co-captain and made the all-state tournament team last season.
But the tenacious little midfielder returned to action five games ago — and will play in another state tournament.
He’s a big reason for that, delivering the lone goal of the match as the Cougars beat Andover 1-0 in the Section 7AA finals Tuesday evening.
“To be able to come back like this, it feels amazing,” Moua beamed in the glowing aftermath of the title game at Andover.
“He is a spectacular player. It was great to get him back,” said coach Jeff Ottosen.
Moau’s bullet just under the crossbar in the 47th minute was all the Cougars needed.
This is a team for whom one goal is a mountain. The Cougars posted their 12th shutout in 19 games. They outscored three section foes 9-0, and have yielded just three goals in the last 14 games.
“We have a great defensive group,” Ottosen acknowledged. Asked how they do it, he said, “Style and structure. We do things that other teams don’t that makes it hard to score on us.”
The Cougars will take a 17-2 record and 14 straight wins into the school’s second consecutive state tournament and third overall. They won Section 5AA last year and were moved to 7AA this year.
Andover (15-3-1) beat the Cougars 1-0 at home Aug. 27, which gave them the Northwest Suburban Conference title by a half-point over the Cougars — and the top seed for sectionals, which means hope field, quite significant because they play on grass and the Cougars play on turf.
“We are much better on turf,” Ottosen said. Plus, the grass was slick and slippery on a cold, moist evening, not to mention pock-marked after a long season of football and soccer games. “But, we practice a lot on both grass and turf,” he added.
The lone goal came after Moau suddenly found the ball at his feet and a clear shot at the net from about 15 yards. He drilled it just above the leaping goalie’s reach.
And no, he was not aiming for just under the crossbar. “I just shot,” he said about the second goal of his five-game season and biggest of his career. “The ball was deflected to me and I had the opportunity and I just shot.” Will Miers was credited with an assist.
Goalie Ricky Hemric and the defense did the rest.
“Our guys in the back are really strong and talented and make my job easy,” the goalie. “We work so hard all year, and through the summer, to get to this point.”
Andover’s best chances came in the last 20 minutes, each with Noah Eklund booting the ball. Eklund had the lone goal in Andover’s earlier win over the Cougars. This time, his cannon shot from about 18 yards sailed just over the bar and his free kick from the 30 veered just right of the post.
“We had our chance and ours went in, and they had their chance and theirs went wide. The same thing that happened in our first game,” said Ottosen. “We are two very even, hard-working teams.”
The state tournament is scheduled for Oct. 22-31.