South opens soccer season with win over Carson
By David Shaw
LANDIS — It may be time to recalibrate expectations for South Rowan’s boys soccer team.
The Raiders, an unsightly 6-14-3 a year ago, looked vastly improved in Monday’s 3-1 season-opening win against visiting Carson.
“We struggled last year,” conceded second-year coach Russ Fisher. “But we lost some close games, some tough ones. Coming in, I had to get the players up top to start finishing plays. At our summer workouts, we focused a lot more on sustaining offense. It’s something we all decided we were going to do.”
South has passed its first test — using second-half goals by Jordi Cortez and Harrison Ward to hand Carson an opening-night loss. The Raiders made a key adjustment at halftime and peppered 11 shots-at-goal in the final 40 minutes.
“It’s team chemistry — and it’s coming together,” said Ward, a senior midfielder who attacked the net and converted a doorstep rebound, closing the scoring with 20:25 to play. “It’s like we’re all growing up together.”
Carson forward Jaxon Wheeler credited South with a strategic change that spawned a number of scoring chances.
“Well, for one thing they started playing more as a team,” the free-wheeling senior said. “In the first half they were just sending big balls down the field and chasing. In the second, they were better at possessing the ball in the midfield and going sideline-to-sideline. Eventually it got to the middle for shots our keeper couldn’t stop.”
Carson coach Ken Correll anticipated as much.
“They’re a good team. There’s no doubt,” he said after the Cougars were outshot 16-8. “We knew coming in they were going to be a tough matchup. We didn’t possess well in the second half and they were putting up a lot quicker pressure. We didn’t adjust to that.”
And like a house cat spying another mouse, the Raiders capitalized. “We pulled the guys together on the sideline and said, ‘Hey, the long ball isn’t working,'” Fisher explained. “We had to change our formation, work the balls inside and out, and just wear them down. By the end of the game we were putting a lot of shots on goal.”
South struck first, scoring before the match was eight-minutes old. Senior Dalton Baxter settled under a long throw-in by Daniel Trejo and headed a point-blank shot past Carson keeper Branson Sotelo.
“That’s what you need against a rival like Carson,” South’s Cam Phillips said.
“It changed the game and gave us the momentum,” added Cortez, a heavy-footed junior defender.
South’s early jubilance soon turned to concern when Wheeler tied the score 11 minutes later. He gathered a long, defense-splitting feed from teammate Alonso Reyes, found some space and whipped a 15-yard shot past winning keeper Parker Anderson into the lower left corner.
“A speed goal,” he said. “That tends to be the way I score them. Most of my offseason training was spent trying to get quicker.”
An evenly played first half ended without further scoring. South reclaimed the lead just 8:32 into the second period when Cortez drilled a thunderous, 30-yard free kick from the right side beyond Sotelo’s outstretched gloves and just under the crossbar for the go-ahead goal.
“I had some time to think,” Cortez said afterward. “I was looking to see where the goalkeeper was going to line up. I just wanted to put it where he couldn’t get it.”
Fisher said Cortez is simply being rewarded for all the billable hours he accumulated over the summer.
“He’s come a long way to become a starter on varsity,” the coach said. “He’s a staple for us in those situations. ”
Ward added an insurance goal midway through the final half. Teammate Eber Tapia advanced the ball deep into the left corner before unleashing a sharp-angle shot that Sotelo — diving from his line — partially deflected. The rebound pinballed to Ward, stationed in front, who buried an uncontested shot.
“I needed that ball in,” Ward smiled.
Carson tried to rally back, but each of three corner kicks in the waning moments were cleared without incident. When it ended, the Raiders rejoiced like a team that’s aiming high this season.
“Oh, don’t lose sight of us,” Fisher said. “Don’t let this team go. They have big dreams this year.”
NOTES: Sotelo, a freshman making his varsity debut, was credited with 10 saves. … Ward nearly scored again with 18 minutes remaining, when his soft header glanced off the crossbar. “I thought I hit it too hard,” he suggested. … Carson plays its second match in two days when it hosts Northwest Cabarrus at 5:30 p.m. today. South entertains South Iredell on Wednesday night.