Seventeen minutes into Friday night's match, Carlos McCrary eyed up a cross as it came into the box from the right side, struck the ball well on the volley and ... it slammed off the post.
But the chances kept coming for the Madison 56ers forward.
McCrary had no fewer than a half-dozen more quality opportunities, but saw them go begging in a variety of ways: a header off the crossbar, a chip off the post, another delicate touch that rolled just wide, two wide-open shots blazed over the goal and a downward header that was saved.
With a substitute ready to replace him, McCrary got one final chance – and finished it. His 79th-minute goal opened the scoring, and Madison pulled away late for a 3-0 victory over Eau Claire Aris at Breese Stevens Field.
"It was just one of those days," said McCrary, who scored a team-high 17 goals last season. "Obviously, I missed so many chances, I was just happy that I finally got one before I came off. And we got the result, so that's even better."
Jesus Miranda (Madison La Follette) scored just 2 minutes into his debut with the team after coming on for McCrary and defender Matt Balshaw finished off the scoring with a header in the 87th as the 56ers (3-1-0) pulled three points closer to leader Quad City (6-0-0) in the National Premier Soccer League Midwest Region Central Division standings.
"I complimented them very much for keeping their calm and keeping their poise, which is not always easy in a game like that, where you see the time draining away and you know you don't need a tie, you need a win," Madison coach Jim Launder said after his team's second win of the season over Aris – the 56ers won 4-0 in a league opener May 17.
"We had to work. They were much more organized than they were the first time we played them."
Madison finished with a whopping 29-6 advantage in shots on the night, but didn't force Aris goalkeeper Lucas Henderson to make a save until McCrary's header in the 59th.
Henderson came up with another big stop 3 minutes later, diving to his right to deny UW's Derek Pitts (Middleton) on a penalty kick – Pitts stepped to spot after being taken down by Eau Claire's Jesus Soto on the right side of the box.
The 56ers, and McCrary, finally broke through with 11 minutes remaining after some nice work by UW midfielder Ryan Buda (Stevens Point) and striker Jade Johnson, both second-half substitutes.
Buda corralled a long goal kick from UW teammate Max Jentsch (Hartland Arrowhead) on the left side and found Johnson at the top of the box, and he in turn slipped in a ball to McCrary bursting in on the left. McCrary slotted it past Henderson and sprinted down the sideline chased by celebrating teammates.
"It's good that we can create all them chances for Carlos," Balshaw said. "Eventually one's going to go in – he's a goal scorer."
"Definitely, it was a big relief," Madison midfielder Jack Keeling added. "When we missed that penalty, I thought we weren't going to score tonight. And you just get confidence when you get that little cushion."
Miranda made his debut a memorable one, showing his nose for the goal right off the bat. Keeling tried to find Keenan Newallo on the back door, but the ball was deflected in the box and popped out to Miranda on the left side. He made no mistake, taking a touch, turning and scoring to trigger another celebration in the 81st.
"Jesus has been practicing really well with us the past two weeks, really consistent," Launder said of the 20-year-old. "I said 'OK, time to give him a chance and see what happens.' He's very calm on the ball, good combination player with other players, he make smart runs and he finishes well."
Buda and Keeling were involved in the final goal. Buda served in a corner kick from the right side that went over the leaping Johnson – his target – but Keeling tracked it down. He worked in on left side and played a ball to the far post with the outside of his right foot and Balshaw nodded it in for his third goal of the year.
Balshaw praised the contributions of Buda, Miranda, Johnson and Newallo, all of whom came off the bench.
"Our subs today made a big impact on the game. They did change it," Balshaw said. "We just lost a bit of tempo in the second half and they came on and brought that extra bit."
Aris coach Greg Saliaras agreed.
"They deserved it, you've got to give them credit where credit is due," said Saliaras, who had to use a first-half sub when center back Joe Meyer was forced out with a possible concussion after knocking heads with Balshaw on a challenge. "They had more energy – they could bring energy off the bench. I'm looking at our bench, it was our backup goalie, myself or a kid who has never played before."
Still, there were plenty of positives for the visitors to take. Eau Claire (0-4-0) had a great chance to take the lead in the 37th, only to see Jentsch come up with a huge save on Jason McDermott's blast from the top of the box.
"I'm proud of them. We defended well, we played well," Saliaras said. "We were right there. We had a couple of good chances in the first, maybe if we would've finished one, that would have been a different game.
"It's frustrating, but that's what it is. Madison is better than us. We've just got to play a little bit better, we've just got to fine tune a little bit. The second half of the season is going to be a lot better. ... We're almost there."
June 7, 2013 NPSL match at Breese Stevens Field
Madison – Carlos McCrary (Jade Johnson, Ryan Buda) 79
Madison – Jesus Miranda 81
Madison – Matt Balshaw (Jack Keeling) 87
MADISON 56ERS: Max Jentsch; Dominic O'Connor, Matt Balshaw, Bryan Minogue, Carl Schneider; Derek Pitts (Luke Jenner 73), Luke Goodnetter (Keenan Newallo 57), Jack Keeling, Claudiu Aionesei (Ryan Buda 68); Carlos McCrary (Jesus Miranda 79), Sam Etim (Jade Johnson 57).
EAU CLAIRE ARIS: Lucas Henderson; Charles Gibbons (Tenzin Tsenor 57), Pedashoo Deneus, Joe Meyer (Richard Rowell 40), Logan Scheppke; Dennis Benthin, Michael Kerr, Sam Renstrom, Jesus Soto; John Wrona, Jason McDermott.
Saves: M (Jentsch) 1, EC (Henderson) 3. Shots: M 29, EC 6. Corner kicks: M 10, EC 3. Fouls: M 9, EC 10. Offsides: M 1, EC 0. Discipline: EC – Deneus 16 (yellow, foul); EC – Renstrom 22 (yellow, foul).