By Brad Fauber
WOODSTOCK -- Central's boys soccer team did enough during the regular season to earn the second seed in the Conference 28 tournament, but the Falcons' late-season struggle to put the ball into the net continued against visiting John Champe in the conference semifinal round on Wednesday evening.
The third-seeded Knights handed Central its third straight shutout loss, and five different players scored goals for John Champe as the Falcons' season came to an end in a 5-0 defeat.
"I was happier with the way they played today. We played a little bit better possession," Falcons coach Ted Poor said of his team, which lost four of its final five matches. "And [John Champe] is a good team. They're almost twice our size, and they play 4A and 5A schools. You can tell -- they're a seasoned team."
For John Champe, which is in just its second year of existence, the win was a monumental one. The Knights (8-10) were winless in their first season a year ago, but qualified for next week's Region 3A East tournament with Wednesday's victory.
"We were 0-16 [last season]. From last year to this year, there's only three new guys. We had to learn a new style of play ... and that took a year to incorporate," Knights coach Andy Vera said. "Now after a year they've jelled together very well, and as you can see they move the ball around really well, which is what I teach them to do."
The Knights' willingness to share the goal-scoring opportunities was evident on Wednesday, and sophomore midfielder Khalid Hirad got John Champe started with a goal in the 14th minute. His 20-yard, left-footed free kick from just outside the penalty box sliced past Central's wall and hooked just inside the right post past a diving attempt by Falcons goalkeeper Jose Martinez.
"He is our free kick specialist on the team," Vera said. "We've got two -- Will Donohoe with his right foot and Khalid with his left. Anytime it happens on that [right] side -- teams are starting to learn not to foul on that side, because he's bounced a couple off the post in there."
Central's (8-6-2) defense -- with the help of Martinez, who finished with 10 total saves -- held off the Knights' offensive attack for the rest of the first half, but John Champe began widening the margin quickly over the final 40 minutes.
Junior Juan Mendez doubled the Knights' lead just three minutes into the second half, as he gathered a cross from teammate Pierre Labib after the ball got past a Central defender in the box and planted the ball into the back of the net.
"That was huge because anytime in the second half where you have a team like [Central], strong boys and there's a lot of pride involved, they're going to come after you for the first 10 or 15 minutes," Vera said. "As a coach you try to motivate your group to just finish it off in the first 10 or 15 minutes, and that's what they did."
Donohoe gave John Champe a 3-0 lead with he connected on a rising shot from about 20 yards out in the 55th minute, and Ervin Suarez scored when he fired a shot from the left side of the box that caromed off the right post and into the net in the 62nd minute.
"We were in a 4-5-1 for most of the first half, and then with 15 minutes to go I pulled it to a 4-4-2. That opened up the middle more for them," Poor said. "But we were showing no offense, so we were down 1-0 at that point, you've got to kind of press at that point."
Knights junior Phi Pham capped the scoring with 12 minutes to play when he hit a rising shot from 30 yards out that skipped off Martinez's hand as he leapt for the save attempt.
John Champe outshot Central 23-7 in the match, and perhaps the Falcons' best shot at a goal came as time expired and Elmer Lopez's pointblank shot hit the left post and rolled away.
Poor said he hopes the Falcons, who lose five seniors -- including Japanese foreign-exchange student and leading scorer Taishi Ukai -- to graduation, can build off some of the success they had this season.
"Next year is next year. They know what they need to work on," Poor said. "We'll do some early-season training and stuff, and I'm hoping to put a travel team together with a couple of other coaches, so we'll see."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD