Wow! The boys realized two things from this game. It takes a team to compete against top level competition and it takes a certain attitude to know how to claim victory. In the first game of the season against a Magic PNA team that outscored opponents 49-1 in league play since our last meeting in April, the boys needed a solid game from everyone.
Ben, Graham, Matthew, Noah, Alex, Tyler and Tommy started the game for the Hawks. There were several looking to come into their own on this day. After the Danny Cunniff tournament, this was the opportunity to get themselves back to playing Hawks soccer. Many of the boys in PNA's lineup were familiar - Andres, Casper, Michael and Gabriel just to name a few. All are excellent players who have done a number to us in the past. Andres and Michael both have a dangerous shot on goal that can range from 20-30 yards out. Unfortunately, Brooklyn was unavailable. Rumor has it that he was on his way to Columbus, Ohio to join Coach Klinsmann and the USMNT in their World Cup qualifier against Mexico on Tuesday or that he was on his way to try-out for West Ham United of the English Premier League. True or not, I am running with both stories for now (and the originator of these rumors).
The game started in typical fashion. Both sides were looking to establish themselves early to set the tempo of the game. The game was back and forth early. The defense started solid. Matthew was especially nimble in the middle. The wings were creating some push up the sidelines. After 13 minutes of play, it happened. Graham took possession of the ball on a pass from Noah, overcame a double team with a sweet lead pass to Matthew who finished the play off with a great shot into the back of the net. It was a great sequence for the boys. 9 minutes later, the Magic came back with a great sequence of passes in transition and finished the play with a blast into the net on Tommy's left. Our boys did not let up. They kept the momentum up. Defensively, the forwards and COM kept pressuring the ball up high. The effort paid off. Matthew took advantage of a little breakdown, dribbled to his right and scored his second just before halftime.
Halftime score: Hawks 2 PNA 1
Adjustments included a keeper change. Alex was put into goal for his ability to punt with distance and Tommy was moved to striker to take advantage of his speed. The game was back and forth. Both sides were displaying a great sequence of passes. I lost count of how many passes were completed because there was a lot going on. Michael had some success creating pressure up the middle. Andres had that look like he wanted the next goal badly. Matthew was relentless in the middle. Tyler was having by far his best game ever. Graham and Marco were both starting to come into their own. At about the 46th minute, PNA once again broke down our defense with a push to the right of the goal and found the back of the net to tie the score at 2-2. 6 minutes later, the Hawks finally found an opportunity with a penalty kick. This created the sequence of the game. Marco took the shot. Their keeper made another spectacular save. PNA then pushed the ball up the field and created a break-away opportunity. The forward took the shot, but Alex made the save going the other way. This particular sequence defined how the game was played - quality play all over the field. Marco would not be denied, however. 5 minutes later he found a seam down the right sideline. He put a centering pass in front of the goal. The ball deflected off a PNA defender, the keeper was caught off guard and the ball found its way into the back of the net. Was it luck? Probably, but I always believe that luck comes from preparation meeting opportunity.
Final score: Hawks 3 PNA 2
Credit to everyone on the field. These are the types of games where the final score is irrelevant. When our boys have the chance to play great teams, we get the chance to improve our game and validate their current state as a team. It is also great to see our boys put together a game that challenged PNA. Those boys have a bright future in soccer if their passion for the game continues into high school and beyond.
Let's call out some boys.
Tyler: Game of your life, young man. You play defense well. Your possession game is always improving. Your new nickname is Mr Utility. I can play you anywhere on the field.
Mateo: I asked you to defend Andres specifically and you did just that. You are back to bulldog status. By the way, congrats on your brown belt.
Marco: You found your rhythm today, especially in the 2nd half. Great game today.
Matthew: I have a vision for what you can do in the middle. You took the first steps to making that vision a reality. Monster game today, kiddo. Way to drive the offense.
Ben: You have a style of play that makes you effective. Thanks for giving me your best effort. It makes a big difference in the game.
Graham: You played tough all day. Your passing ability is very underrated. You are so close to turning into that player I see you becoming.
Voodoo Ninja: I quote Bob Seger, "Like a rock!"
This game is very cerebral. It was great to see the boys use their brains to compliment their athleticism. Through team play, they can set up teammates for those great moments.