Keeper gives optimistic Knight confidence

Bremerton High’s soccer team is still having trouble putting the ball in the net, but if Elkhan Maradov’s performance against South Kitsap was an indicator of things to come, then the Knights just got tougher to score against.

The senior keeper, a foreign exchange-student from Azerbaijian, made 13 saves, several of the acrobatic variety, in his first varsity start during a 2-0 Narrows League loss against South Kitsap on Tuesday, April 2 at Memorial Stadium.

“He’s been playing jayvees, but I think he’s going to be playing up for a little bit,” Bremerton coach Lance McCoy said. “He made some incredible saves. That one, he took right off his face. He just blinked and got right up. He’s a tough Russian kid.”

Bremerton (0-5 league, 0-5-1 overall) didn’t play like a team that’s still looking for its first win.

Give Maradov, who also goes by “E,” credit for helping infuse a shot of confidence into the whole Bremerton team.

“When you have a keeper that can make the hard saves, you’re thinking, ‘Oh my God, I can take chances,’” McCoy said. “And you saw it from the back line when we moved the ball forward. We left it all out there on the field. The guys can play relaxed knowing that E will come up big. And they did.”

Maradoz, who injured his head in his last jayvee game, was given the OK to start in place of sophomore Andrew Bay, who was suffering from a torn stomach muscle.

Maradoz made some big-time saves, picking up a bloody nose after stopping Jerad Kupietz’s hard shot with his face. He made at least two other diving stops in one-on-one situations, deflecting the ball away from the net.

“Those are big-time saves,” McCoy said. “He’s fearless. Keepers are amazing when they can come out and generate that kind of excitement.”

South Kitsap (4-2 league, 4-3 overall) got goals from Nick Fruner (15th minute) and Evan Winslow (55th minute) and out-shot Bremerton 21-5.

Still, the Knights never backed down and remained patient while creating some scoring opportunities in the second half, the last with nine minutes left when Mark Mattson’s well executed shot off a corner kick was snuffed out by Wolves keeper Danny Phelps.

“We need more opportunities up front, there’s no doubt about it,” McCoy said. “I’ve asked these guys to take longer shots. You saw Logan (Marsh) hit a couple 35-yarders. Why not? Put it on the frame. What if the goalie slips? Right now we have to create our own breaks.”

The Knights, like their coach, remain positive and upbeat.

“This team doesn’t feel sorry for itself,” McCoy said. “I think they’re one of the hardest working teams in the league. They don’t give up. They like each other. They’re everything you’d expect out of a team except we’re not getting wins. It’s one of those things. I can’t explain it. But they’re playing well. You saw ‘em knocking the ball around. It’s beautiful soccer.”

Bremerton closes out the first round of league play on Tuesday, April 9 at home against Central Kitsap.

“The first half has been a learning experience,” McCoy said. “The guys are looking at the second half as an opportunity. Maybe we can create our own breaks and get a few early goals. I think if we ever scored first, it would be monumental and it’ll just explode our team to new territory.”

Even a native of Azerbajian, a country that shares borders with Russia and Iran along the Caspian Sea, can see this is a team with some potential, if it could figure out a way to score.

“I think we need one or two good forwards,” Maradoz said. “We had really good strikers at the high school in my country. I think that’s what we need now. We have like only one goal too often.”

If Maradoz plays like he did against South Kitsap the rest of the season, one goal might be enough on some nights.

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