On Monday, October 9th, your Manteo Redskins hosted the Edenton Aces for a conference rematch. In the early afternoon, the air was hot and humid and ripe with a sense of anticipation as both sides understood the gravity of this particular game. Prior to this match-up, the Redskins were two games in front of the Aces. If the Aces won, they would only be one game back, with the chance to host Manteo two weeks later for their third conference match-up. If Manteo won, they would position themselves three games in front of Edenton, with only four conference games remaining. Edenton would then need Manteo to lose all four of the remaining conference games, which would be an unlikely outcome given the winning streak Manteo has been on. The stage was set, the tension was apparent, and the energy level was high.
Manteo kicked off, and the pace on both sides of the pitch was feverish. Manteo looked to control and pass the ball on the ground throughout the midfield, obtaining most of the possession. Upon Edenton’s possession, they looked to capitalize on their speed up top by playing quick long balls and through balls into space behind the backline of Manteo. Manteo’s style of play would prove effective first in the game.
Center back, Bryson Casey would win the ball on the backline, and play a simple forward pass to center back, Eric Hernandez. Hernandez would take several touches forward through the midfield while negating his defender’s lackluster effort to win the ball back. Hernandez cut the ball back, leaving his defender, and then played Landon Taylor on an overlapping run into the left midfield. Taylor would drop it off for J Zafra on the touchline, and after a quick combo back and forth, Zafra would find the ball at his feet again. Zafra played a low and dangerous cross into the top middle of the box in an effort to find Edwin Perez. The defender on Perez would snuff out the ball, yet he stumbled to the ground as he won it, placing the ball back towards the middle of the box. Randall Klotz pounced on the ball first and buried it in the back off the net off of a crushing one-touch shot.
Five minutes after Manteo’s first goal, Hernandez would strike again for the Redskins. The center midfielder found space to dribble up the middle of the field with only one defender putting slight pressure on the ball. Confident as always with his ball skills, Hernandez worked the ball deeper down the pitch and as he approached the 18-yard box, he made a drawback cut to the left. The cutback caused the defender to turn his back for a split second, and it gave Hernandez more than enough space to set himself up for a shot. He quickly cut the ball back to his right foot and had a crack from 25 yards out. The ball was struck low and hard, and blazed past the outstretched arm of the keeper. The Redskins were seemingly in the driver’s seat with an early 2-0 lead, yet things were just about to get interesting.
Midway through the first half, with the Redskins leading, a light but constant rain began to fall. The Redskins continued to dominate the run of possession but they were pushing almost everyone up in their attacks. This was leaving too much space for the Aces to play the ball out into the midfield to start an easy counter-attack. This played right into the strength of the Aces as they have several players with tremendous speed up top. The Aces would use this speed to get their first goal of the evening.
Upon winning a defensive challenge deep in their defensive third, an Edenton defender sent the ball up the middle to their midfielder sitting in the open space that was vacated by the Manteo center defensive midfielders pushing forward on the previous attack. The Edenton players quickly sent a hard, low through-ball up the gut that sent both of Manteo’s center backs in hot pursuit of the ball and the speedy striker. The Edenton striker won position in front of the Redskins center backs, and the Manteo keeper was slow off his line to the ball, allowing the striker one quick touch just past the keeper to make it a 2-1 ball game.
In soccer, a team is always the most vulnerable to give a goal the first five minutes after giving up a previous goal. Manteo would fall victim to that statistic as the Aces would knot the game at two goals apiece just minutes later. Center back, Jose Velasco, would challenge an Edenton attacker along the right wing in Manteo’s defensive third. Velasco made a solid challenge but was unlucky in the end result as the ball somehow squirted right back into play for the attacker. Velasco chased in recovery as the ball made its way into the box. Two other Manteo defender’s closed in the attacker, yet they all appeared hesitant to made contact with the attacker for fear of causing a penalty kick. Therefore, the attacker made his way into the six-yard box unabated and struck the ball well, placing it by the Manteo keeper, and into the far-post side netting.
Manteo now found themselves in a tight ball game for the first time in over a month. The rain persisted, Edenton had the momentum, and to make matters worse, striker Randall Klotz would just pick up a yellow card. As Klotz was forced to come out of the game in the first half due to the card, the Manteo coaching staff would need to make an important decision as to what to do with him. Klotz was needed on the pitch, but another hard challenge from in a hard-fought physical game could leave Manteo playing down a man. In the end, the decision was made, and Klotz was immediately subbed right back in the game. Thirty seconds after returning to the pitch, Klotz would score his second goal of the evening, putting Manteo back on top.
Edenton continued to threaten the Redskin back line with speedy counter attacks and afforded themselves numerous chances. As one of their chances landed in the safe hands of Manteo keeper, Trent Jones Jr., the Redskins would look to build their attack from the back. Jones Jr. rolled the ball wide to right back, Sam Diaz. Diaz would then play the ball on a short diagonal to the center defensive midfielder, Landon Taylor. Taylor would find the center midfielder, Eric Hernandez, who would then keep the switch by playing to the left midfielder, J Zafra. The ball sent Zafra through the left midfield, drawing the attention of several Edenton defenders. Zafra would cut in and play a well-weighted pass to Klotz who was making his run up the middle. The ball was just a bit behind Klotz, yet he made a brilliant turn on the ball, pulling it back from behind him, turning the ball and his body 180 degrees, all while setting the ball up perfectly for a strike with his right foot. Klotz’s strike was confident, and assuredly another goal from the moment he struck it. Klotz’s third goal of the evening was certainly one of Manteo’s greatest team goals of the season and it put the Redskins up by a score of 4-2.
The Redskins would enter the half up two goals and would make tactical changes to negate the Edenton counter attacks and direct approach up the middle.
The second half tactical changes certainly seemed to defuse almost all of the Ace’s attacking prowess, as their attacks in the second half were sparse. Manteo made sure to sit one of their center defensive midfielders back in front of their backline at all times in order to snuff out their intermediate outlet passes to start their counter-attack.
Manteo absolutely dominated the second half of the game, racking up a plethora of shot attempts, yet they were unable to finish another one. However, Manteo’s unrelenting attack wore down the Edenton defense to the point they were almost unable to even get the ball up to their attackers. T
The game would end on an odd note as Hernandez found himself dribbling through backline defenders and into the top of the box. Just as Hernandez entered the box with the ball, one of the two defenders clearly clipped Hernandez straight from behind, while not getting any of the soccer ball. Hernandez was taken to the ground on what was assured to be awarded as a penalty kick, yet the official looked at the game clock to note only 30 seconds left in the game, and decided to swallow his whistle.
Regardless of the no-call, the Redskins obtained the victory and set themselves up for a conference title. The Redskins will face each conference opponent once more this season and will need to win only one of those four games to clinch the title. While the mathematics of it all seems nice, I am sure the Redskins will strive to win out as “undefeated conference champs” sounds a lot better than just “conference champs”.
Coach Cleaver stated after the game, ” This was a tremendous win for us! We understood the importance of it, and we got it done. They are a solid team, with lots of speed about the pitch, and their offense can be tough to deal with. After getting burned a few times on counter attacks, we tightened up defensively, made the necessary adjustments and shut them down. I think Randall played his best game of the year tonight, providing exceptional energy and effort up top all night long, and he was a force they were unable to stop. Eric Hernandez continues to get better and better at his new role of playmaker in the middle and he controls everything for us offensively, but he also expands a great deal of energy on the defensive side of the ball which necessary for us to be a truly great team. We are proud of our boys for their effort tonight, and I am ecstatic over the class of our fourth goal which played through every level of our formation from one side to another. The team is trusting in the system and delivering the results.”