Stymied by solid defending, great goalkeeping and a host of wayward shots in the game’s first 75 minutes, the Clayton boys soccer team didn’t panic while on the road at South Johnston Thursday .
Pablo Rosales found Juan Alvarado in stride down the right wing and Alvarado managed the rest with a goal to the far post with less than five minutes in regulation to propel the Comets to a 1-0 victory over the Trojans in the Johnston United Soccer Association Cup semifinals.
“We hadn’t scored in two games and sometimes that becomes a mind thing and I think happened a little bit with the boys tonight,” Clayton coach John Asmussen said. “Our game is possession and we’re not going to deviate away from that. We have creative players in the midfield and goals will come.
“Hopefully, the more we break things down the more they will open up and I think the last 10 minutes, we did that.”
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South Johnston goalkeeper Luis Garcia had eight huge saves in the first half and central defender Oliver Pastrana cleared another would-be goal off the line to keep the contest scoreless through halftime.
Unable to establish sustained possession of the ball, the Trojans were forced to defend and try to spring counterattacks with Yovanni Herrera and freshman Israel Montoya creating the only two clear scoring opportunities on the night for South Johnston (1-1).
Just a night removed from seeing its first game action of the season and without a pair of starters in the lineup, South Johnston coach Jeremy Byrd saw a lot of good come out of the loss.
“I know what Clayton brings every year,” said Byrd. “We didn’t have many chances offensively but we needed a game like that to see how we would respond.
“I was happy with it; as happy as you could be with a loss I guess.”
Three who mattered
Juan Alvarado, Clayton: The senior’s fifth goal of the season proved to be the game winner but Alvarado was busy all game long forcing Garcia into three saves from inside the penalty box and serving in some quality crosses from the wings as well.
Daniel Alioto, Clayton: Alioto helped to direct traffic in the middle of the pitch for the Comets with productive results. His ability to retain possession of the ball and connect on a majority of his passes helped Clayton dominate possession.
Oliver Pastrana, South Johnston: Pastrana was everything you want out of a center back: smart, tough, vocal and, over all else, impenetrable. The senior leader stopped many of the Comets’ runs to goal dead in their tracks and prevented Alvarado from giving Clayton the lead in the 16th minute clearing the ball off the line after it had gotten past Garcia.
They said it
“I had to definitely time (the run) right and I found the right space and it went in for me,” Juan Alvarado on his game-winning goal.
By the numbers
13: Saves by Garcia, who appeared almost unbeatable at times, frustrating the Comets. None were bigger than his second half reflex-save on Clayton’s Alvarado from close range after Garcia’s initial stop on a Brandon Sainz attempt saw the ball trickle dangerously in front of the goal.
10: Number of shots the Comets fired off target in the second half before finally getting one on frame. Clayton was more efficient in the opening 40 minutes with nine of 13 shots forcing either Garcia or the South Johnston defense into action.
2: Number of combined saves required from J.T. Palazzalo and Cray Stricker to earn the Comets’ first shutout of the season.
Clayton will square off against Corinth Holders in the JUSA Cup championship game on a date and field to be determined. The Comets will attempt to prevent the Pisrates from repeating as tournament champions.
After rainouts delayed the beginning of the South Johnston season, the Trojans will have four non-conference opportunities to ready themselves for the Two Rivers 3A Conference.