No longer conference opponents as in years past, the Garner and Smithfield-Selma soccer teams reunited Thursday night in a nonconference battle that served as each squad’s final game outside of league play for the regular season.
Though it didn’t count in their conference standings this time around, the Spartans made a big statement in snapping the Trojans’ seven-game winning streak with a 3-1 victory.
Daniel Antonio Avila tallied two second-half goals and Joseph Williams netted what proved to be the game-winner for an experienced Smithfield-Selma team tied for first place in the 3A Two Rivers Conference.
After few scoring opportunities presented themselves for either team in the opening half, it took the Spartans just 74 seconds to strike first in the second half.
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Smithfield-Selma gained possession of the ball on the left wing where Rodrigo Sanchez slid the ball to the middle of the pitch to Avila, who then pulled the ball behind him and quickly fired a shot to the low corner for the 1-0 lead.
After Joseph Williams stunned Garner with a blast from 30 yards out for a 2-0 lead, Avila capped off the Spartans’ scoring as he again was able to find space in the middle of the field for a left-footed shot that beat Garner goalie Robbie McLamb to his left.
“I think we started passing the ball more and supporting each other and that’s when we put the ball in the back of the net,” Avila said of his team’s offensive outburst in the second half.
Ball movement had been a staple of the Trojans’ attack during a seven-game streak that catapulted Garner to the top of the Greater Neuse River Conference standings.Against the Spartans, though, the team’s timing was off.
Smithfield-Selma (6-4-2) employed the offside trap to keep Garner off-balance, to the tune of 12 offside calls whistled against the Trojans, who had a tough time figuring out when to make their runs and when to find their runners with through balls.
“We just did not respond to the way they were playing,” Garner coach Jon Sherwin said, referring to the Smithfield-Selma defense pushing up. “Our game is typically on the outside to try to spread them out to open up the middle but we were just not on tonight.”
The one time the Trojans were able to get the ball out wide and cross it in front of the goal, they scored.
Garner senior Marco Perez created and then finished off the Trojans’ best scoring chance of the night.
With just 18 minutes left, Perez first crossed the ball to Duncan Forster in front of the goal and then rebounded Forster’s shot that ricocheted off the post and deposited it into the back of the net to put Garner (9-4) at 3-1.
But the Spartans, strengthened by a roster that includes 15 seniors, held on.
“They’ve matured a lot over the years,” Smithfield-Selma coach Renato Freitas said. “They’re running for each other and not for themselves anymore. They have some great goals ahead of them like winning the conference, which we haven’t done in our school in awhile, and they see that it is attainable.
“And I think they are turning it all up.”
As for Garner, Sherwin sees the silver lining despite the outcome.
“To continue to play at a high level and not get bored is a tough thing,” Sherwin said. “We’re going to have to figure it out and I’m glad it happened in a nonconference game. It’s kind of a regrouping thing and we can get ourselves back together for the last half of the conference.”