What a difference a little confidence makes.
Two weeks ago, Cleveland’s soccer team was looking up at the rest of the world, nursing yet another loss in an 0-6 start to the 2014 season.
Wednesday night, behind a second-half hat trick by Lawson Lamm, the Rams picked up their fourth win in their last five outings, a 4-1 thumping of county and Two Rivers 2A Conference rival South Johnston.
The victory not only lifted the Rams’ record to 4-7 overall, but to 3-1 and at least a share of second place in the Two Rivers Conference.
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South Johnston tumbled to 4-6 overall and 2-2 in conference action.
Cleveland coach Nick Gruhn knew his team was better than its start, but with several players out of and getting used to positions in the early stages of the season
“They just had to get comfortable playing with one another,” Gruhn said. “We had lost about half our roster from last year, so they had to get used to each other.”
The getting used to each other manifested itself in a three-match winning steak, starting with a 1-0 win over county rival Clayton.
“That has given us a lot of confidence,” Gruhn said.
Gruhn added everyone on the team had stepped up, showing improvement from game-to-game.
“Every one has done their fair share,” Gruhn said. “We have to really play as a team. No one stands out - Lawson just got hot tonight.”
Lamm picked up his game in the second 40 minutes, giving the Rams a 2-0 lead on a free kick from 32 yards out three minutes into the period.
While lining up his kick, Lamm noticed a gap between the right post and the right side of the wall of defenders set up by the Trojans, rocketing the ball by South Johnston goal keeper Luis Garcia.
“Luis really had no chance at that one,” said Trojans coach Rami Kauppi. “His view was blocked by the wall, and he had to choose which side to play. There was a gap there that their guy happened to see.”
Lamm added his second goal eight minutes into the half, blasting one-touch past Garcia to convert a left to right diagonal cross through the box from Fredy Garcia and restore a two goal lead for the Rams at 3-1.
The final goal came on a 30-yard blast from just right of the center of the field which deflected off a Trojans defender.
Kauppi felt that should also bean own goal, and said, “It’s hard enough to stop them (Trojans) from scoring goals when we are giving them own goals.”
“We had possession through the whole first half,” Lamm said. “But things were going our way, they (shots) just weren’t going into the net.
“We knew if we kept shooting in the second half, things would go our way - and they did.”
Cleveland used an aggressive attack on both sides of the ball in the opening 40 minutes and owned a 9-4 advantage in shots in the first half.
The Rams continued to dominate play in the first 30 minutes of the second period, finishing the match with a 22-8 edge in shots and 4-1 in corners.
Lamm noted that two defenders, who had missed the first meeting of the season between the teams, a 3-2 South Johnston win in the semifinals of the JUSA Cup, was a difference.
“Getting them back has helped us,” Lamm said. “And we have been working really hard in practice.”
But for the first 40 minutes, Lamm and the rest of the Rams were stymied by the Trojans, who gifted Cleveland a 1-0 lead with an own goal 15 minutes into the match.
The goal occurred when Yovanni Herrera, attempting to make a play on a cross by Joseph Martinez sent the ball in the left side of the goal, giving the Rams a 1-0 lead that would stand throughout the half.
“It was one of those goals where someone should have opened their mouths,” Kuappi said. “He had three guys (Trojans defenders) right behind him – he didn’t have to be reaching for that ball. Someone else could have hollered, ‘My Ball!’
“Other than that, we played real well in the first half.”
Jorge Barahona drew the Trojans within 2-1 when he headed in a free kick by Ramon Montoya five minutes into the second half.
“It’s all about minimizing your mistakes against good team,” Kuappi said.