A saturated field made ball control a tall task for the Knightdale and East Wake soccer teams on Monday, but had little effect on their ability to find the goal.
Knight senior forward VLyle Walker delivered a hat trick in the teams’ first of two regular-season meetings, fueling his team to a 4-3 victory over the Warriors.
For Knightdale (3-10, 2-3 Greater Neuse River 4A), the win was a welcome sign it hadn’t accrued too much rust while playing just two games over a two-week span due to inclement weather.
“We’ve had a lot of rest, so we had a lot of energy tonight,” said Knightdale coach Andrew Vaglio. “Both teams fought hard. I thought they were evenly matched. (East Wake) played really well, defensively.
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“For us, it was connecting passes at the right time and scoring on a set piece. Those were the differences in the game. We’ve got to play them again at Knightdale, and we’ll have to be on our game to beat them again.”
The outcome was a familiar one to East Wake coach Michael Howes, who recalled losing the first bout with Knightdale last season – also by one goal. He also remembered how his players responded.
“This was the turning point in our season last year,” Howes said. “We got together, we sat down and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to put some things together,’ and then we went on to have a really good end to the season. We ended up with seven wins at the end of the season and took third place (in the conference) to ourselves.”
Howes’ main point of emphasis was that the Warriors (3-5-3, 3-3-1) learn something from the loss and use it to improve.
“Everyone can be a great winner,” he said. “It’s how you carry yourself when you lose. It’s not the end of the world for our guys. They have to bounce back, though.”
East Wake applied a wave of pressure and produced a trio of dangerous looks while searching for the equalizer in the final two minutes Monday. The Warriors had pulled within the final margin when junior forward Eric Laredo and his senior counterpart Bernard Acheampong pin-balled their way past the Knightdale back line and Laredo scored with 8:55 left.
It was the goal before Laredo’s that had a lasting effect on the Warriors, according to Howes.
With 12 minutes to play, the Knights cleared a Laredo corner kick. Ryan Mays gained possession in space in the mid-backfield and pushed the ball forward to Walker, who drove past one defender and evaded East Wake keeper Jason Dean for an uncontested goal and the two-goal lead.
“When we went down 4-2, that made it that much tougher because Jason (Dean) went out to save that ball and it got underneath his body, so that was kind of unfortunate,” Howes said.
Knightdale led 3-2 after a Josh Weddle header at the far post off a Mays corner kick in the 56th minute. Dean denied the Knights another goal two goals a minute later with his stop of a firm free kick by Mays.
After a pow wow in what was a disputed offside call, officials determined a Walker shot in the 46th minute cleared the plane of the goal line to knot the game at 2-all. Walker opened the scoring in the 10th minute, taking a through ball up the middle for a one-on-one confrontation with Dean and scoring from the left side.
“He’s playing though some pain with a groin pull,” Vaglio said of Walker. “I’d say he’s at about 85 percent right now, but his 85 (percent) is really good for us right now.”
East Wake got its first two goals on a free kick by Layne Gairett (15th minute) bent with precision into the right upper 90 out of the reach of Knights keeper Dalton Hagemann and by Landon Cantin (34th), who got a toe on the aftermath of a corner kick to put the Warriors up 2-1.
East Wake threatened twice to tie in the 66th minute on a free kick by Gairett that kicked off the cross bar, and a cross by Cantin and near header by Steven Juarez Reyes.