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Prep soccer: Concord, Carson battle to a draw

By David Shaw

david.shaw@salisburypost.com

CHINA GROVE — It was a missed opportunity and nothing more for Carson.

Thursday night’s 2-2 tie with visiting Concord wasn’t worthy of celebration, but it kept the Cougars in the SPC driver’s seat.

“A tie — especially in a conference game — is much better than a loss,” coach Justin Buckwalter said. “We’ve made it more difficult for ourselves but it would have been a lot more difficult with a loss.”

The Cougars (15-2-1, 11-1-1 SPC) are chasing a second straight conference championship and viewed the outcome not so much as a stop, but as another chance to go.

“We’ve just got to work hard and fix our mistakes,” said Brandon Flores. “We can’t let this happen again.”

The Cougars, who thrashed Concord 6-1 on Monday, never connected all the dots in their home finale. They overcame a pair of one-goal deficits and forged the tie when Flores scored an unassisted goal with 10 minutes, 11 seconds remaining in regulation.

“We seemed to play a lot harder on Monday,” sophomore defender Cole Howard said. “In the first half we hardly did anything right. We never put our whole game together.”

Carson has spent the season leveling nearly everything in its path. But Thursday’s game was characterized by missed connections, balls in the air when they needed to be on the ground and some loose play in its own end. Second-place Concord (10-3-1, 14-5-1), meanwhile, played 100 minutes with renewed vigor and determination.

“Monday was a really odd game for us,” said first-year Spiders’ coach Todd Tinsley. “We don’t give up six goals often and knew we were better than that.”

They were. Concord dominated the opening 12 minutes and jumped ahead in the 13th when senior Jonny Bernal confiscated a rebound in front and pumped it past Carson keeper Grayson Owens. The Cougars’ first shot of the match came a minute later when Concord goalkeeper Matt Twigger smothered a low, hard penalty kick by Pedro Perez. It was a tone-setting save.

“We learned from Monday’s loss,” said Concord defender Brayan Torres. “We weren’t going to do that again. This is a bigger field than ours. We had more space, more room to pass, so did more passing. And we checked (Flores) pretty well, one man in front of him and one behind.”

Carson tied the score just 1:20 into the second half when Khalid Myers took a well-placed pass from Raunel Vasquez and steered it past Twigger. Concord answered in the ninth minute when Austin Hernandez knocked in a bouncing ball on the doorstep, then turned things over to its under-rated defense.

“Their game is based on speed and sending it long, then flicking these little passes toward the middle of the field,” Tinsley said. “We took that away from them. We crammed the middle and forced them to play long ball.”

Carson seemed most energetic in the closing moments of regulation and the two 10-minute overtimes. Flores netted his 33rd goal of the year to tie the score off a broken play near the goal.

“That’s just Brandon doing what Brandon does,” Buckwalter said. “He finishes plays.”

The Cougars finished with a flurry of near-misses late in the second overtime. First Flores motored down the right sideline and swept past three defenders, only to be foiled by Twigger before he could launch a shot.

“He’s lightning,” said Buckwalter. “But I think he had a little bit of a heavy touch.”

Then with about a minute to play midfielder Ricky Maldonado whipped a shot off the crossbar, bringing the crowd to its feet. And in the final seconds junior Colton Correll was somehow denied from close range.

“Here’s the difference,” Flores said. “On Monday, (Concord) made a lot of mistakes and we punished them. Today, they played a lot smarter.”

NOTES : Carson seniors Fidel Flores, Aaron Lippard and Silvestre Lopez were recognized in a brief pre-game ceremony. … The Cougars finish their regular season with three road games, beginning Monday at Central Cabarrus.

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