Clayton’s boys soccer victory at West Johnston followed a similar path to the Comets’ entire season to date — a few early mistakes, followed by a consistent stretch of strong, effective play.
After the Wildcats couldn’t convert on a pair of open-net opportunities in the first 10 minutes, Clayton settled down to deliver a 3-0 decision in Wednesday’s Greater Neuse River Conference rivalry matchup.
The Comets, who dropped three contests in a row during the non-conference portion of their schedule, improved to 7-4 overall and 4-1 in the GNRC, which is good enough for a tie for first place. Clayton has won five of its last six outings, with its lone league setback coming against defending champion Harnett Central.
“We got it taken to us in that game,’’ Clayton head coach John Asmussen said of the Harnett Central loss on Sept. 14. “It was one of those games that caused you to look in the mirror and think about making some changes. We switched formations and that opened things up for us. It allowed us to play to some of our strengths up front.’’
Never miss a local story.
Clayton hasn’t lost since, picking up three victories in a row against conference foes by a combined 10-2 margin. West Johnston is now 4-6-1 and 2-3.
After escaping West Johnston’s early chances, Clayton earned a penalty kick just over 13 minutes in when Juan Alvarado was fouled while leaping for a ball in the box. Comets’ senior midfielder Brandon Sainz, following a brief delay, went low left with a perfect attempt that gave Clayton the lead for good. It was the second PK goal this season for Sainz.
“We had some extra time there (before the kick),’’ Sainz said. “But I tried not to overthink it. You can’t do that. I just waited until it was time .’’
Alvarado scored less than two minutes later, and Stephen Ruiz tacked on Clayton’s final goal later in the opening half.
They said it
“That’s the story of the West Johnston season,” Wildcats’ coach Luke Waddell said of his club’s inability to shoot into an open net twice in the first half. “We are right there with every team in our conference. We just don’t have those three or four key (scorers) who can be counted on like the other teams have.’’
From the midfield on back, Clayton was reliable and efficient. The Comets’ midfield controlled possession and created transition offense behind the solid work of Sainz and Daniel Alioto, among others. Defensively, Clayton was stout and had a penchant for forcing the Wildcats’ into offsides situations.
Three who mattered
Brandon Sainz, Clayton: One of the area’s slickest ballhandlers, Sainz owned the midfield in addition to delivering his clutch early goal.
“Brandon sees the game like few people do,’’ Asmussen said. “He is also a true leader for us.’’
Sean Kimble, Clayton: The Comets have allowed just seven goals in GNRC action, thanks in part to Kimble’s defensive prowess. Whenever a West Johnston player got a step on one of his teammates, Kimble was there to make a play and end the threat.
Nick Margiolas, West Johnston: Even though Clayton scored three times, that number could have been higher if not for the work of Margiolas in net. He finished with 12 saves, several of which were registered in acrobatic fashion.
Out of bounds
While Asmussen cited the Harnett Central loss as a turning point in a positive direction for the Comets, Sainz reflected back to a 6-2 thumping at Smithfield-Selma on August 26 as a potential crossroads for his club.
“That was a wake-up call because we had beaten (SSS) earlier,’’ Sainz said. “That was a tough (defeat) to take. From there, we have been working really hard and playing well together.’’
Wednesday’s contest was Asmussen’s first against his former West Johnston team. Asmussen stepped down at West Johnston after one year in the off-season to come to Clayton, which is closer to his home, and where he coach previously before leaving the region for a while. Waddell, a long-time friend of Asmussen’s, was chosen as his successor.
“It’s tough when you leave a place,’’ Asmussen said. “But when you know the new (skipper) is a good person and a heck of a coach, then that makes it much easier.’’
GNRC 4A Boys Soccer
Clayton 4-1-0, 7-4-0
Southeast Raleigh 3-1-0, 3-3-0
Harnett Central 2-1-1, 8-2-1
Garner 3-2-0, 4-6-1
Knightdale 2-2-0, 4-9-0
West Johnston 2-3-0, 4-6-1
Rolesville 0-3-2, 0-8-4
East Wake 0-2-1, 2-7-1