The Laurel boys soccer team opened the season with five straight victories before falling to Parkdale by a goal on Sept. 25.
The Spartans took a break from the county schedule the next day and recharged their batteries with a 7-1 victory over Saint Vincent Pallotti, in a game that was tied 1-1 late in the first half.
Pallotti goalie Travis Holiday got a yellow card for a hand ball out of the box with under two minutes left in the first half and the Spartans exploded for six goals in the second half.
Seniors Tuang Thang (two goals, two assists), Kwame Duncan (two goals, one assist), Carlos Reyes-Medrano (one goal, one assist) and Melvin Palacios (one goal) and junior Cheif-Wesley Bentil (one goal) scored for the Spartans and senior Eduardo Chavarria-Najera added an assist.
Duncan’s assist to Cheif-Wesley was the only goal for the Spartans in the first half.
Tuang (seven goals, three assists), Duncan (six goals, two assists) and Reyes-Medrano (three goals, three assists) lead the Spartans in scoring.
Against Pallotti, Reyes-Medrano had several dangerous crosses in the first half, but Holiday kept them out of the net.
That changed in the second half when Holiday was on the sidelines.
“I just said, ‘Keep it away from the goalkeeper,' " Laurel coach Daryl Ferguson said. "In the first half, the goalkeeper made five saves to keep them in the game. I told the team don’t get discouraged and to attack and get the ball on frame.”
Pallotti first-year head coach Charlie Peterson knew the loss of Holiday would be a severe blow.
“I’ve told him all year, if you are not All-Conference this year, there is something wrong with the coaches,” Peterson said. “We call him ‘Sweeper Keeper’ because you saw him come up and send balls back out of there a couple times out of the box.”
Pallotti dropped to 1-5-1 overall after the loss to Laurel and they are 1-1-1 in the MIAA C Conference, including a 5-0 win over Chapelgate and 1-1 tie with Beth Tfiloh.
Laurel’s Reyes-Medrano was glad to get some redemption after the loss to Parkdale.
“In the beginning of the season, it was pretty rough for me, balls weren’t coming to my side, but balls started coming my way and I started to do things for the team,” Reyes-Medrano said. “I’m thankful for all my teammates, who motivate me every day. They tell me to keep my head up and keep going and the coaches just kept telling me to work hard and the balls will come and that’s what happened.”
Reyes-Medrano helped give the Spartans the lead for good just 67 seconds into the second half when he sent a long ball to Tuang, who deposited it home.
“I saw him all the way over there and I saw if it was a perfect cross he was in line, so I sent him the perfect ball,” Reyes-Medrano said.”
Laurel picked up its tempo and the floodgates opened with four goals in the first 13 minutes of the second half.
“That’s our goal is to put the ball in the back of the net and to put the other team on their back foot and catch them off guard and exploit them with our speed,” Reyes-Medrano said.
“We always preach 1-2 touch, we also preach how fast we can get the ball in and out of our feet and how fast you can find feet forward,” Ferguson added.
Laurel’s defense, led by experienced senior defenders Oscar Ayala, Eduardo Chavarria-Najera and Nang Muang and goalies Joel Velasquez (starter) and Kevin Calderon were stellar, allowing only a penalty-kick goal by John Ikebudu, who scored his team–leading sixth goal of the year.
The victory took some of the sting off the 2-1 loss to Parkdale the day before.
“It was a game that we could have had, but it wasn’t our best game,” said Ferguson, whose squad led Parkdale, 1-0, at half. “We were timid on the ball at times and we didn’t keep it. Even though we got one first, we still weren’t ourselves in the second half. Today, we were able to keep that possession.”
Laurel boasts 12 seniors on the roster, after losing in the regional semifinals last season to eventual regional champion Bladensburg.
Laurel was the second seed and had a first round by before defeating Northwestern, 1-0, in the second round.
They also played neighborhood-rival Pallotti for the first time in several years last year and won, 3-1.
“It used to be the battle of Laurel years ago and we are trying to get it back,” Ferguson said.
Pallotti lost 15 players from last year, including 12 seniors, and would like to get back to the postseason.
Last year, the second-seeded Panthers lost to third-seeded St. John’s, 5-1, in the first round of the playoffs.
“This year, we just hope we can move forward and get some new guys up from JV to jell and come together, so we can improve and hopefully win the league, we’ve got a good chance,” sophomore captain Tommy Bello said. “We can definitely compete with everybody in the league.”
New coach Peterson, who arrived at Pallotti in 1997 and was the assistant for former coach Steve Shurman, is ready for the challenge with a team that has only one senior and two juniors, along with 10 sophomores and four freshmen.
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“Before the years out, I keep telling them, ‘Hey, I’m 70 years old and I don’t have forever, so I’m not building for next year or the year after that, I’m building for right now,’” Peterson said.