Mustangs fall 1-0 to Wheaton Academy in Pepsi Showdown
By Matt Le Cren
If there is one thing that Wheaton Academy and Metea Valley share, it is a refusal to make excuses.
Wheaton Academy has struggled since losing its best player, senior Tim Daniels, to a season-ending knee injury in the season opener. The Warriors played poorly in a 3-1 upset loss to Providence on Thursday.
Metea Valley is playing its inaugural varsity season without any seniors, which puts it at a significant disadvantage in every match.
But none of that mattered on Saturday, when Wheaton Academy defeated the Mustangs 1-0 on the final day of pool play at the Pepsi Showdown in LaGrange. Neither team advanced to the tournament quarterfinal – both finished with 1-2 records.
While the Warriors (4-3) had the better of the play, especially in the second half, they were unable to put the game out of reach thanks to Metea Valley keeper Derek Carothers, who made five saves, including a couple of great reactions on deflections in front.
“I thought he was terrific today,” Metea Valley coach Josh Robinson said. “He’s been phenomenal the past three games. Today he kept us in the game.”
But Metea (3-5) lacked anyone with the chutzpah to win the game, someone like the Warriors' Devin Moore, who netted the game's lone goal.
“[Moore] was sensational today,” Robinson said. “Not to take anything [away from] him, he may not have the most skill but he does everything you’d want out of a player on the field. Hopefully our kids saw that and maybe one or two can model that.”
The Mustangs have struggled to score against the better teams, though at times against Wheaton they showed flashes of what could be with a little more intensity. Junior Zach Bavol proved to be a danger, sending several free kicks into the Warriors penalty area and forcing Wheaton goalie Jesse Carmody to make two of his four saves.
Bavol’s best chance came when he launched a quick attack up the right wing, only to send a 15-yard shot just over the crossbar 10 seconds before halftime. Forty seconds earlier, junior Ryan Solomon had nearly broken the scoreless tie but shot wide right as Carmody charged out to cut down the angle.
“We work hard but we lack composure,” Robinson said. “We seem to struggle a little bit when things aren’t going well for ourselves and we’re still looking for someone to step up and take that leadership role or solve the problem.
“And that’s probably our biggest issue right now is that we have a hard time solving problems. When things are going well we connect the ball around real nice and we look dangerous, but we had a hard time with things today.
“We struggle in the center part of the field. We struggle essentially to maintain possession of the ball and we’re finding out real quick that we’re not playing at the level that we need to to be successful right now. Whether it’s not playing a varsity schedule last year or where they’re coming from club, we’re struggling to find that transition to understand that high school games are a bit different from club. The intensity is higher.”
Bavol understands that, which is why he could be heard exhorting his teammates on the field, at one time shouting, “Someone’s got to crash [the net]. You guys have to want it.’”
“Zach has matured quite a bit in the past couple weeks,” Robinson said. “He’s starting to realize that his role on the team, to be a leader – is extremely important. He is one of the most talented soccer players we have here, but what he has done more is stepped up to being a leader.
“He’s being more outspoken, his work rate is a lot, lot harder than it’s been. People are noticing it that he’s doing everything right and that our success can run through him.”
Bavol feels he needed to fill the leadership vacuum that naturally occurs on a team with no seniors, but said the Mustangs can’t use the lack of seniors as a crutch.
“Not having seniors doesn’t affect as at all,” Bavol said. “It’s not an excuse. We still need to work as hard as we can.
“This whole thing is a learning experience for all of us. We all believe that next year is our big year and we’re going to take this and we’re going to learn from it. This year is more trying to get experience under all of our belts."
For Wheaton Academy, Saturday marked another step in the healing process of playing without Daniels.
“[Coping with the loss of Daniels] has been a couple-step process, trying to move through some different lineups and formations, and I think we’re about settled,” Wheaton Academy coach Jeff Brooke said. “We’re beginning to see people emerge as leaders and then as very quality players. That’s helpful but it does take a little bit of time.
“I think this was a huge game for us with the result we had the other night, which we were very displeased with,” he added. “To come back, to show some character and to get a win represented our leadership, particularly Devin Moore. It showed that we’re going to fight all year.”
Moore, a senior co-captain, scored the game’s lone goal on a great effort with 17:17 remaining in the second half. The midfielder latched onto a loose ball in the midfield, ran past two defenders up the left wing and beat Metea keeper Derek Carothers with a wicked 20-yard shot inside the far post.
“It definitely is a boost,” Moore said of the win that snapped a two-game losing streak. “I think it shows the character of our team, which is something we’re proud of.
“Our previous game we lost. It was a hard game for us. We felt like we weren’t finishing well, so it was huge to come out in this situation and know that, [while] the game didn’t matter as much, we didn’t give up as a team and we finished on offense. I think it was a breakthrough for us as a team, so it was a good result.”
The Warriors are also learning on the fly, experimenting with new lineups. One major switch was moving senior Stephen Fernandes from center back to center midfield.
“We’re trying to get his ability in the center part of the field with more touches on the ball and we have some defenders who have stepped up to give us the freedom to move him forward,” Brooke said. “We want to give him a little freedom, see if he can create a little attack for us.”