By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- Everything went according to plan.
Patrick Bain was supposed to see teammate Jose Garcia creeping toward him at the top of the penalty box. Bain saw him coming. The Riverheads defenders weren't supposed to notice Garcia moving into position to receive the corner kick. They didn't notice. After taking the pass from Bain, Garcia was supposed to cross to an open teammate in the box, or take the shot if left unguarded. Garcia took the uncontested shot, sending the ball scorching into the back of the net. Everything went according to plan.
That designed offensive play helped seal Stonewall Jackson's 4-0 win over the Gladiators on Tuesday and put the Generals in the driver's seat toward capturing a Shenandoah District title.
"I usually wait [around midfield] and when they're not looking I try to move up," Garcia said. "If I see somebody open I'll cross it, or if not I'll take the shot. I decided to take the shot and luckily I caught the goalie off balance and it worked."
That play may have worked to perfection for the Generals, but in the first half, Stonewall's offense was having trouble executing the final steps of its offensive attacks. From the opening whistle, Stonewall's offense took control, leaving goalie Hayden Miller to stand back and watch as his offense rattled off shot after shot. It didn't take long for the Generals to strike, either.
In the eighth minute, Stonewall midfielder Juan Luna stood in the box and took a pass from teammate Colton Koontz off his chest. After a few taps with his feet to settle the ball, Luna spun around and fired the ball to the far corner of the net, giving the home team an early 1-0 lead.
From then on, however, the Generals kept their attack at full strength, yet weren't able to punch the shots through. Stonewall fired shots in what seemed like every minute in the first half, including the 12th, 13th, 19th, 20th, 26th, 27th, 30th and 32nd minutes, but couldn't increase its lead -- that is, until just before halftime.
Finally in the 38th minute, Luna again put the Generals on the scoreboard, taking another ball in the scorebox, this time the right side, and firing a shot into the net to put Stonewall ahead by two at the end of the first half.
"The first half, we dominated possession and our keeper didn't really touch the ball, which was great," Stonewall Jackson coach Nate Hissong said. "We had a little bit of a letup in the second half ... they were able to run on us, which is concerning. I didn't think we played over the course of 80 minutes our best soccer this season, but at times we looked pretty good and put the ball in when it mattered."
With Riverheads in a two-goal hole, its offense began the second half with a little more aggressiveness, forcing Miller to make a few saves early on. Those early chances were the only highlights for the Gladiators, however, as Stonewall quickly extinguished any chance of a comeback with Garcia's fifth goal of the season, putting the Generals ahead, 3-0.
"He's a very skilled left back," Hissong said. "His goal in particular was impressive because you could see what he did. He looked up, he saw the keeper on the far post and he put it perfectly on the near post before the keeper could react."
With Garcia's goal putting the game out of reach, the Generals coasted for the final minutes, even putting in one final goal as freshman Eduardo Juarez took a loose ball in the box and headed it into the net in the 76th minute. The win puts Stonewall into the lead position to claim the district regular-season championship. With three district games left, the Generals would have to lose two to fall out of the top spot.
"We had to win and we knew they also had to win, so we couldn't take it lightly," Garcia said. "We pretty much have [the district title], but we have to keep on playing hard and just get better."