By Nima Ashtari, Reporter
Despite facing numerous injuries and illnesses that sidelined and weakened key players, the varsity boys' soccer team showcased the depth of their roster in a nail-biting 3-2 win at home over the Vandegrift Vipers on Friday, Feb. 1.
"We started the game with a lot of injuries and players that had come down with the flu during the week," Midfielder Felipe Centeno '19 said. "We were really lucky to have them play a bit for us at least."
The Warrior offense struggled to find early momentum, likely due to the absence of star forward Theo Givens '20, who spent the night on the bench. Midfielder and captain Eduardo Rodriguez '19 was also forced to watch from the sideline due to his head injury from last week.
"The guys stepped up to the plate," head coach Stefano Salerno said. "We didn't play our best game of soccer today you could see that we had a couple of guys play out of position, and everyone seemed to adapt to their new positions and the new formation."
Thus, the home team faced early pressure and called on keeper Justin Lang '20 to make six saves within the first 15 minutes of the match, including an acrobatic dive towards the far left post to tip a Vandegrift free kick out of bounds. The tide began to shift near the 20 minute mark, starting with Noah Lugani '21, who energized the home fans with two sideline runs that culminated in decent scoring chances.
The Warriors finally broke the deadlock in the 25th minute of the first half, when a long 50-yard through ball from the foot of defender Jack Elliott '19 sailed over the Vandegrift defensive line and found striker Anthony Bibbo '20, who chipped the keeper without much trouble and put the home team on the board. The Warrior defense held to the away team until just five seconds before the whistle ended the half, when a Vandegrift corner landed in Lang's goalbox. The Warrior defense was unable to clear the ball, and the Vipers found themselves with a crucial goal to tie the game 1-1 just before the end of the half.
"It was really difficult starting the second half after conceding with three seconds left in the first half," Centeno said. "We definitely had our work cut out for us and we went all the way through though."
In the second half, Vandegrift jumped on top of the home team in the sixth minute due to a penalty kick that slipped past Lang, putting the visitors up 2-1. Nevertheless, the home fans remained loud, shaking up Vandegrift's players and handing the attacking advantage back to the Warriors.
Coach Salerno elected to move Elliott up to forward to try and equalize, which paid off when Elliott was fouled in the Viper box, giving the Warriors a chance at a penalty of their own. Niko Djordjevic '21 stepped up to take it and sent it into the back of the net without hesitation, putting the two teams on equal footing once again with 19 minutes of play remaining.
Barely eight minutes later, a perfect cross from the right baseline found the head of Gilberto Romero '21, who went from having a quiet night to contributing the decisive goal that would put the home team on top 3-2. The Warriors scrambled to defend a goal-hungry Vandegrift team for the remainder of the game, and succeeded after several tense minutes of Vandegrift assaulting the Warrior's defensive third.
"Considering that we lost to [Vandegrift] 6-0 last year, it just shows the maturity that these guys have gained," Coach Salerno said. "To concede with seconds left in the first half, concede again in the beginning of the second half, and still have the energy, just the mentality, to keep fighting for every single ball until we ended up winning 3-2, it's just an amazing experience as a coach."
The Warriors will look to defend their number one spot in the district table when they face Leander on Feb. 5 at Leander High School.