PILOT MOUNTAIN — There were plenty of positives for East Surry in its Tuesday night soccer match with visiting South Stokes.
The Cardinals played by far their best defensive game of the season, and in the second half, the team managed to muster an attack and frequently outplayed the Sauras. The team clearly appears to be jelling after a rough start to the 2016 season in which East lost its first four matches against top-notch competition.
The only thing that eluded the team, by the smallest of margins, was a victory.
The Cardinals (0-4-1) took a 1-0 lead when Diego Rebollar settled a long pass from the midfield and got behind the South Stokes defenders, eventually nailing a shot inside the right post for a 1-0 lead with 37:49 to play. The shot was actually the first of the match for East Surry, which failed to put a shot on goal in the opening 40 minutes. In fact, the Sauras’ keeper didn’t even touch the ball during game action until the 36th minute.
“We have still have not played and practiced enough together to get our combinations going,” said East Surry coach Neal Oliver of his team’s largely futile opening half. “It’s going to take a while for the kids to get used to each other and learning who can do what.”
The remainder of the second half was played on generally even terms, with both teams standing strong on defense until the last few minutes, when the Cardinals appeared to tire. With about eight minutes to play, South Stokes (2-0-1) regained its ascendancy on the pitch, and the home team was clearly just trying to hang on.
With time running under six minutes, East held on when the Sauras’ Logan Mankaryos had a free kick from 10 yards in front, and then keeper Garrett Atkins saved the day when the ball settled in front of Jose Rodriguez, who blasted one right at Atkins from 12 yards away.
The Cardinals then cleared the ball, and it looked like East Surry was about to ride an outstanding performance by its oft-maligned defense to its first victory of the season. But South Stokes, a team with nine seniors in its rotation, had one more run left in it.
With time under four minutes to go, the Sauras had again pushed close to the goal, and this time, the Cardinals were whistled for a foul inside the goal box. With 3:07 remaining, Mankaryos took a penalty kick and pushed it just inches to the left of Atkins to tie the match.
Both teams made frantic runs at the other team’s net in the time remaining, but only the Cardinals had a shot at the game-winner, that coming on a well-placed long shot from Eduardo Medina with 1:07 to play. However, Stokes keeper Ben Bowen was up to the challenge, and time expired with the match tied.
“Our defense picked up a lot tonight. It’s better than it’s been all year,” said Oliver, “(but) we’re still not quite in the condition we need to be in.
“You can’t give up a PK with less than four minutes left in the match. That’s not something you can do and play winning soccer.”
Since overtime is only played in non-conference matches by prior mutual agreement of the coaches, the match ended in a draw.
The Sauras outshot their hosts 6-0 in a first half in which Mankaryos and Thomas Carroll both got good looks at the East Surry goal. Strong play in goal from Atkins, helped by defenders Gonzalo Chavez, Brady Jessup, Seth Lowe and Javier Ruiz, kept South Stokes off the board.
The visitors had a one-man defense in their backfield during the first half, as senior Matthew Mudd was on the spot to repel any balls that crossed midfield.
The Cardinals appeared to be much more comfortable on the offensive end after the break, and immediately mounted their first serious attack of the match. The second half wasn’t a minute old when East was awarded a free kick near the Sauras’ goal. Chavez put the ball over the net, but East kept the ball in following the ensuing goal kick, and moments later, Rebollar gave the Cardinals the lead.East has the next week off before visiting West Stokes on Aug. 31.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.