Smithfield-Selma’s soccer team benefitted from the return of several injured performers for its biggest win of the season Thursday night.
Buoyed by the return of Danny Avila, Fernando Perez, Mario Conales, Eduardo Fagordo and Christian Zamora the Spartans snapped a four-game losing skid with a stunning, 4-0 victory over West Johnston. The Spartans (2-5-1) took the fight to the Wildcats (4-4) in avenging a 5-2 opening day loss.
“Conditioning helped us a great deal,” said Spartans coach Raul Mentivar. “As well as the unity of the team — but early in the season we have had a lot of injured players and now they are back.
“That makes a huge difference for us.”
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The difference was evident as the Spartans rolled to a shocking 3-0 halftime lead with a proficient offensive attack, then used stellar defense to complete the shutout. The win snapped a two-game Smithfield-Selma losing streak in the series.
The offense came from Avila, back from an inury early in the season. While he did not score, his presence kept West Johnston on its heels throughout the match.
“We couldn’t hang with them (Spartans) in the first half,” said Wildcats coach John Asmussen. “And we gave Avila space. He destroyed us.”
Avila destroyed the Wildcats with his ability to distribute the ball, particularly to Johnny Ventura, who tallied three goals, with two of the assists coming from Avila.
Ventura’s first goal came 12 minutes into the match when Alfredo sent a cross through the goal crease to Ventura’s feet, just past the right post.
Ventura blasted the ball past Luis Ceballos for the 1-0 lead. Ceballos would face 16 shots in the match, recording nine saves.
Ventura and Avila combined for the first time 10 minutes later for a 2-0 Spartans lead. Avila stepped up and intercepted a pass from a Wildcats defender who was attempting to move the ball up field from just in front of the West Johnston end line. Avila dribbled the ball toward the left post, then fired a cross through the crease to Ventura, who planted the ball into the net.
Ventura’s third goal, 28 minutes into the first half, came by penalty kick after he was taken down in the box while trying to work his way around a trio o Wildcats defenders.
Avila connected with Ventura in the second half for the final goal. working around the Wildcats defense, sending a left to right cross to Ventura, who sent it into the right side of the net.
“Hopefully, this is our wake-up call,” Asmussen said. “Because we weren’t good in the first half. There’s no way to sugarcoat that: we played awful in the first half.”
West Johnston appeared to be a step behind in long stretches of the first half, despite being out-shot by a scant 9-7 margin.
The Spartans were all over the field in the first half, winning the 50-50 balls, taking the ball off the feet of West’s players all over the field, and controlling a majority of the first half.
“That is something this team (Wildcats) struggles with,” Asmussen said. “And they have to know it. They know they have to be the ones who challenge the 50-50 balls. Every training session, every game we’ve had: it’s all about winning the 50-50 challenges. And until they are willing to do so like they did in the second half tonight, we are not going to be a good soccer team.”
The Spartans, however, looked like a well-oiled machine — not a team that had absorbed four consecutive one-goal losses — or was throttled 5-2 by the Wildcats in the opening round of the 2014 JUSA Cup.
Behind the ever-attacking Avila, the Spartans moved the ball with stunning ease throughout the Wildcats defensive third in the first half. Although Avila never dented the net, his presence and field generalship created openings for the Spartans forwards by drawing double- and triple- teaming. On one instance, the Wildcats put a wall of six defenders in front of Avila as he entered the 18-yard box.
Smithfield-Selma defended its defensive third intensely. Spartans goalkeeper Christian Reyes recorded 15 saves, but was aided in the defensive play of the match by Cornales and Perez.
Thirty-two minutes deep in the half, Reyes came out to challenge an attack, only to dive and miss the ball. Cornales deflected the path of the ball, only to see it continue to head for the right post, where Perez cleared the ball away.