BELLEVILLE — In terms of raw athletic ability, knowledge of the sport and pure speed, the Althoff Crusaders are probably more talented than most soccer teams in the metro-east.
But during the first half of a city showdown with Belleville East on Thursday, the Crusaders were almost flawless.
Nick Harper scored twice in the first half and high-scoring Donovan Gagen added two goals and an assist as Althoff rolled to a 5-2 win over the Lancers in a nonconference match.
Owning an 11-2 edge in shots during the first half, Althoff scored four goals in a 24-minute span as it jumped out to a 4-0 lead over the Lancers.
"I thought we came out and played very well early. We didn't have anything to lose, so why not come out and play like we can. I was a little surprised that we had four goals though,'' Althoff coach Joe Burchett said. "I was very pleased. It was 11 boys playing as one and that doesn't happen all the time.''
Harper gave Althoff (11-4-3) an early lead, scoring off a nifty pass from Mitchell Palmer with 31 minutes, 19 seconds left in the first half.
Five minutes later, senior Shawn Robinson beat Lancers goalie Cody Mathews from point-blank range for a 2-0 Crusaders' advantage.
The early assists by Palmer and senior Trent Oelrich were a sign of things to come as Althoff passed and attacked well all game.
"We really moved the ball well in the first half and we didn't give it away easily. We made sure we moved it to an open player,'' Burchett said. "Like I said though, tonight we really played well as a team in every aspect of the game.
"That was great to see.''
Gagen, who entered Thursday tied for fourth in the St. Louis area in goals (25) and total points (54), made it 3-0 before Harper, using his blazing speed, increased it to 4-0 with just under 10 minutes left in the first half.
Down, but not out, East (5-9-1) fought back in the opening 10 minutes of the second half. Goals by the Nicholas Framstead and Dylan Schmidt trimmed Althoff's lead to 4-2.
"We thought they (East) would probably come out hard in the second half. They were more aggressive and moved the ball a lot better,'' Burchett said. "We needed to make something happen and get a goal to kind of get going again."
Gagen made it happen midway through the second half, when he beat a pair of Lancers defenders and scored from 15 yards out.
Down 5-2, both the comeback and the night were over for the Lancers.
"We are fortunate in that we've got four or five players on this team who can really run this year,'' Burchett said. "Those players are going to get through defenses and that can be demoralizing for some teams.
"Overall, I'm pleased. It was a good team effort.''
East coach Mark Lasley declined comment after the game.