RALEIGH — When Clayton soccer coach Tom Gruhalla came up short on forwards in the middle of the season because of injuries and players moving, so he had to shift some defenders up front.
Converted senior defenders Rafael Torres and Chase Jones looked like that have made the adjustment quite nicely on Wednesday evening.
Torres had two goals and an assist and Jones scored the final goal in the Comets’ four-goal second half as Clayton rolled to a 4-1 victory over Southeast Raleigh.
“We have had to move some guys and it has been an adjustment,” Gruhalla said. “But they played offense really well in the second half. When we move the ball quickly like we did in the second half, we score goals.
“Some games this season we have done it and some we haven’t.”
After a scoreless first half, the Comets (9-7-2, 5-4 Greater Neuse River 4A) cranked up the offense in the second half.
Just over a minute into the final 40 minutes, Torres scored from about 10 yards out after getting a feed from Jones and beating two defenders.
“The pass went over a defender and I was just there,” Torres said. “I got it between two defenders and just ripped it.”
Less than a minute later, Torres got a pass from freshman Connor Jones, Chase’s younger brother, and streaked down the right side. He raced past the last Southeast Raleigh defender and put the ball into the back of the net.
“On the second one, I did locate it,” Torres said. “I saw [the Southeast keeper] on one side and kicked it to the other one.”
For Torres, the switch to forward has been enjoyable.
“I grew up playing defense, but I like scoring goals,” he said, smiling.
Chase Jones said it was a matter of helping the team where he was needed.
“I played defense most of my life, but I have been playing some midfield,” he said. “A couple of games ago, they moved me up to forward. I am just starting to get my touch back at forward.
“We’ve had a tough time with some of our offensive players getting hurt and moving away. We have to make do with what we have. I’m glad our team didn’t give up in the second half. We actually came out harder in the second half.”
After Torres gave the Comets a 2-0 lead with his goals in the first three minutes, Clayton’s Rey Lines scored in the 56th minute. Torres was fouled about 20 yards out on the right side and had a free kick. He tried to shoot it to the left side of the Southeast Raleigh wall of defenders and it went straight to Lines, who banged it in.
In the 76th minute, Chase Jones took a feed from Nick Christiansen in the middle of the field and sent it home to make it 4-0.
Southeast Raleigh (2-8-2, 1-5-2) got on the board in the final minute when Fred Nafukho got loose on a a breakaway and ended an frustrating game by putting the ball in the net from point-blank range after beating the Clayton keeper.
Nafukho had several other opportunities to score in the second half, but the Clayton defense turned him back on the doorstep each time. It was that way in the first half for the Bulldogs, who had some opportunities but could not cash in.
“We played a really strong first half,” Southeast coach Jeremi Harrison said. “We have been working on finishing opportunities. It’s really about keeping possession and getting those opportunities. The more opportunities you get, the more goals you get.
“Clayton played a really good game. They had some good opportunities and they scored some goals on us.”
For Clayton, tied for fourth place in the conference with four matches left in the regular season, its revamped lineup may have hit its stride on Wednesday.
“It’s just trying to get the ball moving in our offense,” Chase Jones said. “Today, in the second half, we moved the ball pretty well, getting it wide, getting it off our foot, one touches and everything. Everything went quite well.”
Especially for a couple of converted defenders named Torres and Jones.