The Edenton Aces rolled into town on the evening of Thursday, the 18th day of October. It was a beautiful, cool Autumn evening that beckoned for a soccer game under the bright lights. The Aces were coming off a big win over Camden the night before and were looking to spoil the Redskins winning streak.
While Manteo mathematically wrapped up the conference title on Monday with a win over Camden, the Redskins have been playing for much more than just a conference title all season. They had their sights set on a number one seeding in the eastern 1A division from day one and they have been holding onto that top spot for months now. The top seed means home field advantage throughout the playoffs and anyone that attended Manteo’s playoff games last year knows what an advantage that can be.
In their previous encounter on the season, the Redskins routed the Aces by a score of 7-1. However, the Aces show no fear against the rolling Redskins and they are not scared to verbally express it. One thing is for certain about the visiting Edenton squad, they lace up their boots to play soccer against Manteo, not to park the bus, and that in itself, deserves respect.
The game kicked off with Manteo taking early control of the game, dominating the midfield play and looking for find space amidst Edenton’s backline. Just a few minutes in, Erik Hernandez sliced and diced his way through several defenders, making his way into the corner of the six-yard box. He drew the keeper out and placed the ball past him. The ball was bound for the net but it was cleared off the line by the Ace’s sweeper.
Manteo was 100% focused for the match and provided beautiful combination play throughout the midfield and final third, involving all layers of the formation.
Ten minutes into the match, Herandez would again attack the left side of their backline on the dribble, making his way again into the corner of the six-yard box. This time, however, he opted to play a simple ball across as he drew the keeper out. He found Joe Zafra patiently waiting inside the six-yard box. Zafra tapped it in for the Redskins first goal on the evening.
Shortly after taking the lead, Hernandez would double it by himself. A 50/50 ball at midfield was won and headed forward by Sam Diaz. Hernandez tracked it and took a beautiful collecting touch to the ground. The Ace’s holding midfielder looked to contain Hernandez atop the box. Hernandez danced the defender out to the right and then cut back into the left. When the defender did not bite on the move or close the space, Hernandez chose to wrap his left foot around the ball, bending it around the defender, around the keeper, and into the back of the net.
Edenton looked to find their skilled striker at midfield when given a spell of possession but the Redskins kept close track of him with rotating holding midfielders Diaz and Gonzalez-Martinez. Any touch the striker did make on the ball, he was quickly knocked off the ball by the Manteo backline. The backline was lead by center-back, Jose Velasco, who played a brilliant game making well-timed tackles, quality first touches, and several skillful turns out of trouble.
Manteo’s third goal on the evening was an outrageous combination of skill between right-back, Yeifer Perez, and Hernandez. Perez made a deep run out of the midfield with the ball at his feet. While at pace, Perez made a step-over that left the first defender frozen atop the right corner of the 18-yard box. His move led him to the center of the box, drawing four defenders closing in around him. Just as the defenders closed, Perez made a no-look, lay-off, diagonal pass to Hernandez, back to the right side of the box. Hernandez calmly collected the lay-off as the sweeper sprinted to close on the ball. Hernandez made a feint, sending the sweeper flying by, and then he calmly passed the ball by the keeper as he was left dead in his tracks on the goalline.
Hernandez, the forever playmaker, later would put in work on the right flank, turning the defender and playing a blistering line drive cross into the six-yard box. The sweeper opted to knock it down before it made its way to Manteo’s Andrew Hayman. Upon knocking it down near the goal line, the sweeper and keeper miscommunicated as to who was going to clear it off the line. Hayman took advantage of the miscommunication and knocked it in for Manteo’s fourth goal of the first half.
The rest of the half was the Ryan McOwen show. He opted to use his size and speed to dominate his defenders and put two in the back of the net.
Justin Ortega picked the pocket of an Aces midfielder, leaving it for Herandez. Hernandez played a quick low diagonal ball for McOwen as he made an all-out run up the slot. The ball was placed through the two defenders and right in the stride of McOwen at full pace. He took one touch and then finished low and hard in the far-post side netting.
Minutes later, McOwen received a pass from Perez that he would lose on the turn inward. However, he quickly pressed his own mistake and won the ball back. He took it straight to goal with a quick burst of speed, beating the last two defenders and surprising the keeper who came off the line a second too late. McOwen crushed it past the keeper just before they all collided and he flipped onto the pitch.
Manteo would enter the half up by a score of 6-0. The Aces were stunned and a bit demoralized.
The second half would roll on as the first did for the Redskins. Brayan Hernandez would play an early cross from the right flank to find Zafra waiting in the box. Zafra would finish it for his second goal on the evening.
Manteo’s eighth goal on the evening was another beauty. It came off a curling cross from McOwen that made its way to the far post. Noah Goetsch tracked it all the way as the backline had over-shifted, failing to pick up the left winger. Goetsch struck it one time with confidence on the volley and it sailed into the top of the net.
Not to be outdone by the others with two goals, Hernandez would finish the game off with a hat-trick. Irving Chavarria was fresh on the field and started the playoff by tracking back and helping William Pendleton win the ball back. Pendleton played Goetsch up the left flank and Chavarria made a run in support of the ball. The ball found its way back to Chavarria. He collected it with confidence amidst several defenders and then found Hernandez inside the box. Hernandez knew exactly what to do with it from there and just like that the game ended with a 9-0 scoreline.
Manteo had 8 corner kicks, 22 total shots, and 13 shots on target.
Coach Cleaver stated after the game, “We played some of our best soccer this evening through all layers of our formation and in all facets of the game. It starts with our focus. When we are focused as a team, we can beat anyone in the state. I feel we are peaking at the right time as the regular season is near the end and the playoffs are pending. We just need to keep focus for one game at a time.”