Coach Derek Blackwelder brought his players together for one last huddle for a final sendoff: “One, two, three – Patriots!”
And with that, the red-and-navy-blue-clad crowd cheered and the team took the field for the first Apex Friendship High School varsity game in any sport.
The result was an 8-0 loss to visiting Leesville Road on Monday night. But Paul Dinkenor, the Leesville coach who knows a thing or two about opening a new school – he was the soccer coach when Leesville opened in 1993 – liked what he saw from the Friendship side.
“It’s a fun thing to open a school and open a program,” Dinkenor said. “The field is beautiful here and I think they did a great job. Coach Blackwelder should be really pleased with his boys.”
“I have some nice memories of 1993 when we got shellacked. But I think, as we did, (Apex Friendship) is capable of winning quite a few games. They had a lot of people and I thought they subbed well, in fours and fives.”
Friendship (0-1) has only sophomores and freshmen this season. But at times, they held their own early against the Pride – which has only juniors and seniors this year.
Nick Piraino sprayed the first shot in school history, and others followed. But the Patriots were called for a foul from behind on a breakaway just eight minutes into the contest, and the offending player got a red card.
Friendship played 72 of its first 80 minutes of soccer with just 10 players and eventually Leesville put the game away.
It took 18 minutes for the Pride’s first goal but it scored three more times in the half’s final 15 minutes, then twice more in the first four of the second half.
“It was tough. I like the way we responded to it,” goalkeeper Jake Headlee said. “It’s challenging, but out there we played really well. We didn’t get bodied off the ball very much.”
The Patriots staved off the 9-goal mercy rule thanks to saves by Headlee and Aymane Assadi.
“I was pleasantly surprised with how we responded to that red card and just the way we fought throughout the game against a bigger, stronger, faster team,” Blackwelder said. “Being down a player against a really good team like Leesville is going to be tough. I don’t think the scoreline would’ve been the same if we had all 11.”
Leesville (1-0), which has high hopes for its experienced squad, got four goals and one assist from Alyddin Dardar.
Gabe Braga, Nolan Fuller and Luca Menozzi (1 assist) and Grant Nelson each had one goal. Nuredin Dardar had one assist as did Evan Dezzutto. Tyler Proctor had two assists.
Nelson’s goal was the biggest highlight. Near the top in the six-yard box, he met incoming cross with a half-bicycle kick that landed safely into the net.
“We took awhile to get on track,” Dinkenor said. “But I felt we popped some nice goals in, we showed some dynamic stuff in the final third, which we’ll need. I thought it was a good team effort.”