With a first-time keeper in goal, the Coconino Panthers (1-1) held the Metro Tech Knights (2-1) scoreless for 100 minutes Tuesday afternoon, winning their home opener 1-0 in overtime.
Backed by two of the captains, Leo Abrego at goalkeeper and Jordan Lugo scoring the match’s lone goal in overtime, Coconino earned its first win of the season and avenged last season’s loss to Metro Tech.
“He has been wanting to play in the goal, but he has been so good in the field and is so quick,” Panthers head coach Kalani Kuamoo said of Abrego. “My number one goalkeeper had a hip injury and at warmups said he couldn't go, so he stepped up and made a good decision for the day.”
After the sides traded corners and free kicks during the opening 25 minutes of the match, Abrego found himself in the first of multiple crucial stops. With the Knights taking a free kick with a little more than 15 minutes left in the first half, the ball bounced in the box before Abrego got a hand on Metro Tech’s high shot.
About 10 minutes later, Abrego and Coconino’s backline found themselves under attack from Metro Tech. Diving to save a ball, Abrego kept the Knights scoreless before another shot went off the left post.
“It’s crazy, I practice a lot and I played when I was younger, but it's just working hard for the team and doing what I can,” Abrego said. “Honestly, I was pretty impressed because I play keeper in practice, but I just goof around. It’s a lot more stress in the game.”
Metro Tech put another shot on goal, but sent it off the crossbar 11 minutes into the second half, with another off the left post three minutes later. While Coconino’s offensive pressure allowed for opportunities before halftime, its defense kept the match level for much of the second half.
Catching a free kick and making another two saves over the next 10 minutes, Abrego and the backline got a break as the Panthers put forth their own attack in the final seven minutes of the match.
Taking a breakaway up the left sideline, Hipolito Molina’s shot on goal at the near post ended up batted away by Metro Tech’s keeper with the ensuing corner cleared before Coconino could generate another shot.
Sage Limones and Molina each took additional shots in the 86th minute, but both went well over the goal as the teams headed to overtime a year after the Knights beat the Panthers 9-0. Metro Tech finished last season 10-2 overall and opened the 2017-18 season with a 2-1 win against Apache Junction and a 5-0 shutout of Coconino’s Grand Canyon Region rival, Mingus Union.
However, after keeping Coconino off the board for 84 minutes, Metro Tech’s defense ended up beaten by Molina and Lugo. After a run up the right sideline by Molina, the ball ended up at the feet of Lugo, who took the shot from 20 yards out and straight on from the goal.
“That's a good player recognizing the keeper is off his line, and he looks and it is wide open,” Kuamoo said. “We had a couple other opportunities with goals, it just didn't pan out, but the more shots you have one will go in.”
Abrego saved a shot five minutes later with his feet as the first half of the 20-minute overtime came to an end. While a pair of yellow cards left the Panthers with just 10 men on the field in the final three minutes, the defense continued to keep the Knights out of a serious scoring opportunities.
Abrego entered the match having never started at keeper at any point in his career, with his first career match ending with multiple saves and an extra-time shutout of a team that entered with seven goals scored in its first two matches.
“If the defense is winning 50-50 balls, then we have a pretty good chance to hang in the game,” Kuamoo said. “In our first two losses, we had an own goal against Flag High and we got scored on in the first minute, so that kind of sets the tone.”
Coconino’s next regular-season match is set for Monday against Saguaro in Scottsdale before hosting Cactus on Friday. The road match will play start at 6 p.m. while the home match begins at 3 p.m.