Leesville Road’s boys soccer team may very well go on to successfully defend its Cap-8 championship this season, but it got a stark reminder Monday that it is going to have to work for it.
The Pride couldn’t hold a one-goal first-half lead, then failed to convert on some second-half opportunities before settling for a 1-1 tie with visiting Apex Friendship in a nonleague contest.
Mason McLaughlin scored a goal for Leesville Road while Oussama Bekkare netted Friendship’s goal. It was a far cry from last year’s encounter between the two teams, an 8-0 Leesville Road victory that sent the Patriots on their way to an 0-21 campaign in their first season of varsity competition.
“We’re a very new team, we probably have five starters from last year’s team, so last year is kind of irrelevant now,” said Leesville Road coach Paul Dinkenor, whose squad was ranked No. 3 in the News & Observer’s preseason Top 25. “I saw some good stuff from our kids, I thought we created enough chances to win, but all credit to Apex Friendship.”
Though much more competitive than last year’s match between the two teams, Leesville Road maintained the majority of possession time and had the better of the scoring opportunities in the second half after the teams were knotted at 1 after the first 40 minutes of play.
The last of those came in the final two minutes, when the Pride’s Evan Dezzutto sent a nice pass across the top of the box to Alex Stewart that would have created a one-on-one opportunity. However, Stewart was not able to come up with possession.
Earlier in the half, Grant Nelson nearly scored on a direct kick from about 25 yards out only for Friendship goalie Jake Headlee to tip it over the crossbar.
“It was pretty disappointing,” Leesville Road senior sweeper Carson McNally said. “We had multiple chances to score but at the end of the day we didn’t put those chances away.”
The first half, particularly early on, saw both teams produce good scoring chances.
Friendship’s Nick Piraino nearly gave his team a 1-0 lead nine minutes into play when he took possession off a scramble just yards from the front of the Leesville Road goal but kicked it high.
Several minutes later, Leesville Road had two good chances. The first of those came when Gabe Oliveira received a nice cross from Tyler Proctor from inside the 15 but fired a shot just wide right. Thirty seconds later, Luca Menozzi drove through traffic but his shot was stopped by Headlee.
Later in the half, though, Leesville Road finally struck for a goal as McLaughlin scored off a scramble, firing a 12-yard shot past Headlee with 11:46 remaining in the first half for a 1-0 lead.
Friendship answered nearly six minutes later with the game-tying goal as Bekkare got behind the Leesville Road defense and booted an arching 25-yard shot that just snuck inside the left post past goalie Jamie Boegel to knot the score at 1.
“I was annoyed with the goal we gave up, we weren’t verbal in the back and we made an unnecessary error,” Dinkenor said. “I thought (Friendship) threatened us throughout, so we have a lot of work to do.”
On the other side, Friendship coach Derek Blackwelder was ecstatic with the effort from his squad. He feels his team is more physical, stronger and a little faster than a year ago and it showed on Monday.
“I was excited with how we played, being (mostly) juniors this year,” Blackwelder said. “Going 0-21 last season was pretty tough, so I’m excited about what we can do from here on out.
“I told the guys Leesville Road is one of the better teams we’ll play this season, so we have to keep up this level of play and not drop it when we play other teams.”