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By Jerry Holsworth - email@example.com
QUICKSBURG -- Rarely in high school soccer does a freshman have the kind of impact Junior Flores had in Monday's Region B tournament's opening round. But Flores played a large role in Manassas Park's dominating 7-1 win on the road to Stonewall Jackson.
"He's playing for one of our national teams and has traveled overseas a couple of times representing the USA," Cougars coach Michael Martinez said. "He's part of a really solid midfield for us. All of our starters are just outstanding players, and the players coming off the bench are pretty good, too. We don't lose much when they're in there."
The bench was the primary reason for the lopsided score. Flores and company controlled play throughout the game, allowing the Generals few opportunities to move the ball into scoring position.
The heat also played an enormous factor in the game, and Manassas Park's depth at midfield allowed them to keep going strong even when its top three midfielders were on the bench for a water break.
"When we got off the bus I was really worried about the heat," Martinez said. "But I knew that we have really good depth, and I was confident in them. I thought that, considering the 90 degree temperatures, our depth was the critical difference in the game."
The Cougars' depth and the heat covered up an excellent performance by the Stonewall Jackson defense. Outshot 11-5 in the first half, and forced to withstand eight corner kicks, the General defense only gave up two first-half goals and both were the result of corner kicks.
"We knew coming into the game that they were a very technical team," Stonewall Jackson coach Nate Hissong said. "I thought our defense in the first half responded well to their pressure. But it was a little deflating to give up two goals on set pieces like that."
One of those scores off a corner kick was a wicked ball by Flores that curved around Generals goalkeeper Eustergio Cruz-Cortes. The Stonewall keeper, however, made four first-half saves that helped keep his Generals in the game.
With the Generals defense holding their own against the Cougars' spectacular short passing game at midfield in the first half, Stonewall Jackson began the second half pressing the Manassas Park defense for a goal. Taking two excellent shots to begin the half, it looked like the Generals were about to seize the momentum and get back into the game.
"Stonewall Jackson has a very proud program based on several years of very successful play," Martinez said. "They're also very well coached, and we knew they weren't going to just sit there and let us attack their goal. I told our kids to stay calm, weather whatever attack they tried, and then counter attack."
The Generals' pressure on the Cougars' goal, just as Martinez predicted, left their defense with several holes. Manassas Park used that to score its first goal of the second half in the first five minutes of play.
"I thought we played pretty well against them in the first half," Hissong said. "We also came out for the second half, and gave it our best shot. But when we started to get tired because of the heat, they really put it on us."
After a goal by Stonewall Jackson's Brandon Jones off a cross by Jonas Jacuinde narrowed the Manassas Park lead to 3-1, the Cougars scored four consecutive goals to put the game out of reach.
"Despite this loss, I really think that we had a very successful season," Hissong said. "We were 16-3, and won both of our district titles. I also think that this loss will have, in the long run, a real positive effect on this team. Now they know where they need to go to get better, and get back to competing at the level we're used to."