A dreary April night at Stewart Field was brightened by a spark of brilliance that highlighted Aberdeen’s place atop the Evergreen 2A boys soccer standings on Thursday night.
Playing through a thick blanket of rain and wind, the Bobcats reversed a first-half performance by Centralia with the only goal of the match in the 46th minute and deftly defended their turf the rest of the way for a 1-0 victory.
Senior forward Juanito Lopez knocked home the match’s lone marker for Aberdeen, keeping it undefeated through seven matches this season and two games up on Centralia, Capital and Tumwater at 5-0 in the league standings.
“(Centralia) is a really good team and this was one of those grind-it-out kind of wins,” AHS head coach Larry Fleming said. “Overall, I feel we weren’t as crisp as we’ve been, mainly because of the (spring break) week. Centralia really passed well, especially in the first half, where we didn’t play well. They caught us off-guard with their passing. In the second half, we looked good and had a lot of chances.”
Centralia may have felt frustrated after the final whistle, especially after dominating play and possession of the ball in the first half. The Tigers (4-2, 6-3) controlled the match by pinning the Bobcats into a defensive posture and into their penalty area. The play was physical and both sides tried to muscle the other for position and space.
However, Aberdeen’s defense, especially notable by the performances of junior Titus Phillips and senior Sam Ruiz on Centralia’s ace forward Prince Gunderson, passed the challenge for a 0-0 halftime score. Sophomore goalkeeper Andres Valdes also made five key saves in the first half that kept the visitors off the scoreboard.
“We usually go into halftime and talk about all of the things we talk about in practice,” Fleming said. “Give Centralia credit, they were tough. That was the best defense we’ve played. They won the ball well. We positionally put ourselves in better spots in the second half.”
With momentum on Centralia’s side, Aberdeen seized it in the first six minutes of the second half.
Senior forward Cody Mishler had a breakaway chance off a long ball by defender Seth Caba four minutes in the second half, but the shot was well over the goal. On the ensuing goal kick, the Bobcats got the ball back and senior Juan Oropeza found Lopez in space.
Chipping the ball over two Centralia defenders, Oropeza put the ball right onto Lopez’s feet as the senior forward fired a low sizzling shot from 16 yards out.
Centralia goalkeeper Jake Peterson initially got a hand on it. The ball, however, had too much power and it slipped past for the goal in the 46th minute.
Aberdeen continued to press its advantage in the second half, while Gunderson had two chances to give his team a tying goal.
In the 54th minute, Gunderson found space to dipsy-doodle dribble around Aberdeen’s defense for a sniper 18-yard low shot destined for the lower right corner. However, the ball struck the post and bounced away. Forward Edgar Bravo followed the ball for a shot that Valdes stuffed from point-blank range.
Late in the match, Gunderson hit the side netting with three Aberdeen defenders surrounding him that gave the Centralia crowd a brief chance to celebrate.
“We held (Prince) to just a few shots the whole game,” Fleming added. “Titus and Sam were the ones who tracked Prince, but Titus really played well. The defense has been getting better and better all the time.”
In the junior varsity match, Aberdeen won, 2-0.
On Saturday, Aberdeen will finish the first half of the league season by traveling to Capital.