No matter the field or the time of the season, the Flagstaff Eagles boys soccer team brings its A-game to crosstown rivalry matches -- especially the defense.
For the fourth straight season, and fifth meeting in a row, the Eagles kept the Coconino Panthers off the scoreboard, recording a season-opening win at home, 3-0, the same outcome of the teams' last meeting.
Eagles head coach Mike Jenkins was impressed with his young defense's performance on Thursday in the Grand Canyon Region debut for both schools.
"They did well, they worked hard together. I think we needed to protect our midfield and deny anything through the middle, and I think we did a good job with that," Jenkins said.
The Eagles allowed just one shot on goal, and it was denied in diving fashion by Mark Cardenas. In the second half, when the teams started playing more physical and Flagstaff players cramped up, causing the game to slow down compared to the fast first half, the younger players subbed in and continued the effort of the starters.
"All those guys, all those sophomores stepped it up and had a great game," Jenkins said.
Vidal Zaldivar started off the the scoring for the Eagles with a shot deep inside the box after Alex Grieder took the ball outside and crossed over the assist. The goal came in the opening minute.
Coconino began penetrating Flagstaff's territory, but to no avail, unable to capitalize on the attacks.
“I think giving up that goal at first made it a little difficult," said Panthers head coach Kalani Kuamoo.
After Flagstaff's Sean Lightner, a senior, arced a shot over Coconino's goalie and into the net to make it 2-0 with 10:30 remaining in the first half, the Panthers warded off three corner kicks from the Eagles in less than 30 seconds.
Zaldivar, in lots of traffic in front of the goal, gained control of the ball quickly off a rejection and shot it to the right of the goalie to cap off the scoring with 16:16 left to go.
The Eagles almost had four on the board, but the score was called off on an offsides call.
"They took that back and we have to learn to deal with it," Jenkins said.
Not long into the second half, Flagstaff broke out open in the middle but the shot went wide right as Coconino's Jair Limones broke up the surge on a physical defensive play.
Coconino, now 0-2 after being unable to score in their first two matches, got on the board last season three games in.
With their third match of 2017-18 on Tuesday at home -- the first of the season at Cromer Stadium -- against Metro Tech, the team has work to do.
Last time Metro Tech and Coconino met a year ago, the outcome came out 9-0 in favor of the Knights.
“We got to start playing more as a team instead of relying on one person to take over,” Kuamoo said.
Flagstaff also knows it has a short amount of time to get firing on all cylinders.
“We are trying to find that chemistry, a lot of guys haven’t played as a unit, so this was a good win to get things going," Jenkins said.
The 4A Conference Flagstaff Eagles stay at home to host the 4A Moon Valley Rockets, who will open their season against the Eagles on Tuesday for a 3 p.m. match.