SANDY Before a swelling crowd on his arch-rival's field, Brighton senior midfielder Mike Nielsen was the center of attention. And by the time his afternoon was over, he had stolen the show.
Shrugging off foul after foul, Nielsen kept his cool from start to finish and looked at home in the emotionally-charged atmosphere that always typifies Brighton-Alta soccer matches.
Nielsen assisted to Tyson Amundsen for the game's lone goal in the 28th minute, and his second-ranked Bengals put tremendous pressure on No. 3 Alta throughout the second half en route to a 1-0 win Friday in the Region 2 opener for both teams.
"To me, this is what I live for. Nothing's better," said Nielsen, who has signed with the University of Portland. "It doesn't matter if it's Alta or if we're going out to play for fun, it's just what I love to do. I do it for a living even though I don't get paid."
Nielsen has been playing in Brighton-Alta games since he was a freshman, and he helped lift his teammates Friday by continually making wise decisions.
"He stayed within himself, and he's got a great game," said Brighton coach Russ Boyer. "He's got a tremendous touch, (He's) a very talented player and he kept his composure and he stayed in the game.
"It looked like he had fun, and ... and that's what you like to see. He kept his composure, and I think as a team we kept our composure and we stayed focused on our job."
One of the great things about Brighton-Alta contests is that both teams simply accept the fact there will be lots of hard-nosed, physical soccer without whining or complaining.
From start to finish, Nielsen embodied that attitude. Fouled on a number of occasions, Nielsen simply got back up, dusted himself off and got back to business.
One such occasion came in the 28th minute, and it led to Brighton's game-winner. After being fouled down the left channel, Nielsen whipped a fantastic free kick toward the near post. Amundson ran onto it and scored with a great flick header.
From there, it was all about putting pressure on the Hawks if you wore Brighton blue.
Alta forward Richard Harrison had four shots to close the first half after Amundsen's goal, but the Hawks only had two threatening attempts both off free kicks throughout the entire second half.
Brighton 'keeper Patxi Shortsleeve was solid; defenders Spencer Burnside, Tim Herzog and Matt Fritzsche stayed compact and the Bengals' midfielders and forwards continually heaped pressure on Alta.
"I was pleased with our pressure, especially in the second half," said Boyer. "I think we could've given more in the first half, but our pressure was key today."
Alta coach Lee Mitchell, whose team lost for the first time in 2008, agreed."They outplayed us a little bit," he said. "They played their game; we didn't play ours."