The Muscatine boys soccer team was in desperation mode in the closing minutes of Tuesday's home game against Bettendorf.
The Muskies finally generated a corner kick in the 88th minute down two goals after a mostly frustrating game. Junior Angel Arceo hustled to the corner to deliver the cross on the set piece, only it didn't go nearly as far as he intended and it bounced into the hands of Bettendorf freshman goalie Ryan Harris.
Arceo stood in disbelief, hands on his knees as the Bulldogs rushed up the field with the ball. Muskie senior Josh Hutton did the same in the box. It was that kind of night for Muscatine in a 3-1 loss to Bettendorf at the Muscatine Soccer Complex.
"I was disappointed with our energy level," Muscatine coach Jose Varela said. "I don't know what it is but it's hard to come out with a consistent energy level and today we just didn't have it. Overall I thought we played OK, but it's the story of the whole year."
Muscatine senior Kobe Vasquez, who made six saves in goal for the Muskies, agreed with his coach's sentiment. And he said it's something that has to improve in order for the Muskies to hit their stride as the season winds down.
Neither team scored in the opening 13 minutes, but after a disastrous 30-second sequence, the Muskies (8-7, 5-3) quickly found themselves in a 2-0 hole. The Bulldogs' first goal came courtesy of Joseph Parker, as he struck a cross that landed in the middle of the field that found its way into the back of the net after bouncing off a Muskie defender.
"We had a couple games early in there year where we started out pretty lackadaisical," Parker said. "As we progressed through the year with a couple losses we realized it's because of our bad starts and lately we're putting an emphasis on getting after it right away."
The next goal came just moments later when a Muscatine pass bounced off a referee and was redirected to Parker, who found Dustin Harris all alone for a wide open goal.
"They were fortunate, there's nothing you can do," Varela said of the ball that bounced off the referee. "But we've been that way against Pleasant Valley, against … the list goes on.
"It's just not good enough."
However, Muscatine did bounce back. Senior Antonio Melendez drew a foul in the 18th minute to give Muscatine a set piece. Junior Eddie Treiber found his way to a loose ball in the box moments later and drilled Muscatine's only goal of the game to close the gap to 2-1.
But Bettendorf (11-2, 7-1) controlled much of the action from there. Muscatine got three more shots on goal, but none of them were truly a threat to score.
In fact, the only other time the Muskies threatened, they scored, but it was wiped off the board due to a penalty. They were called for fouling the goalie, a call Varela said "was just wrong," because the goalie didn't have full control of the ball.
"I think they started to control the game a little more because we were trying to press and move forward to get the equalizing goal," Varela said. "When you're down, you're going to try to push to equalize, and when you do that you're going to leave gaps behind you."
That's exactly what happened in the 87th minute when Bettendorf countered on an all-out Muscatine attack, and junior Ian Silva sealed the game with a goal on a rebound.
"At the end of the day, this game, it doesn't really mean a whole lot," Vasquez said. "We just want to be playing our best soccer going into next week."
Varela said that starts with the team's energy and focus. If neither improves, the season could end much sooner than the Muskies anticipated.
"They're going to have to come back and really demand it," Varela said. "Demand that level or we're going to go home pretty early. It's up to them."