It was the not the same attractive brand of soccer that Corinth Holders has routinely displayed so far this season, but it produced the usual result: a Pirate victory.
Second-half goals from Zach Blinson and Grant Austin propelled Corinth Holders past South Johnston for a 3-2 come-from-behind victory to earn its first Johnston United Soccer Association Cup title and remain undefeated on the season. The match also served as a regular conference matchup between the two members of the Two Rivers 3A Conference.
The Pirates (11-0, 2-0) were forced to abandon their quick one- and two-touch passing that has become the hallmark of a team that entered the match with a robust 47-goal total in 10 games.
A steady rain that began well before the two teams took the field and never let up even past the final whistle made for a soggy pitch that often stopped the ball in its tracks.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
“You couldn’t play quick ball movement, quick possession,” Corinth Holders coach Brent Walston said. “You had to play ugly soccer and both teams had to resort to that. It took us out of our game a little bit.”
After a pair of Alan Johnson goals gave South Johnston a 2-1 lead in the early stages of the second half, the Pirates were tasked with climbing out of a hole for just the third time on the season.
Corinth Holders tied the game in the 51st minute when an Aaron Lopez corner kick, the team’s 10th such kick at that point in the game, was directed into the net by Austin.
Ten minutes later, the Pirates used a quick counterattack and moved the ball past midfield onto the foot of Austin. It took the senior forward just two touches to find Blinson up top for the ultimate game winner.
“It was really messy,” Blinson said. “The passes would just stop; it was hard to move the ball around. It was hard to play the game we usually play but we’ve got heart and we just pushed through and we got goals when we needed them.”
The Pirates dominated play from the opening whistle but had a difficult time connecting on the final through pass thanks to the playing conditions, a brave Trojans defensive back line and the stellar play of sophomore goalie Luis Garcia, who totaled nine saves for the game.
South Johnston defenders routinely stepped in front of the Pirates’ shots to keep the hosts off the board for much of the opening half.
Corinth Holders broke through thanks to a give-and-go between Blinson and Austin, set up by a give away deep in the Trojans’ own end, that saw Blinson finish with a low shot to the far post.
“Early on, we tried to play like we normally do with little passes out of the back but it wasn’t working in this weather,” South Johnston coach Rami Kauppi said. “I do think the conditions helped us versus their talent though. They have such a talented team so that evened the playing field for us.”
South Johnston shocked the Pirates with 12 minutes left in the half when a long ball from Jorge Barahona found Johnson in stride for a breakaway goal to tie the game.
Johnson netted his eighth goal of the tournament early in the second half, taking a feed into the box off a hustle play by Hector Arcia and burying his chance to knot the score. Johnson went on to earn Offensive MVP honors for the tournament, which began the first week of the season but was marred and delayed by rain on multiple days that week.
“The guys did the work for him,” Kauppi said of Arcia and Barahona on Johnson’s two goals. “He did the same thing in the first two games when he buried three in each game.
“Hopefully this is a good start for us to get a little more consistency in our game.”
South Johnston (3-5, 1-1) had two quality looks at tying the game in the 74th minute on a pair of Yovanni Herrera free kicks but Christian Green was able to pounce on both attempts on goal and did not allow a rebound in the slick conditions.
Green finished with five saves on the night for the Pirates.
Corinth Holders defensive center midfielder Dane Martin won the Defensive MVP award for the tournament and was joined by Chason Karst, Alan Landeros and Justin Rogers in putting together solid defensive efforts for the Pirates.
“Perseverance tonight. It was just a game of perseverance and we hung in there,” Walston said. “We persevered. That really was the key word tonight.”