The Flagstaff Eagles boys soccer team scored another victory on Wednesday, shutting out the Thunderbird Chiefs, 2-0.
The Eagles went into the home match knowing that the Chiefs could put up a challenge, as the Chiefs competed in the Moon Valley Soccer Invitational last week -- winning four games and tying one.
“They were hyped. They were focused. They knew this was going to be a good test,” said Eagles head coach Mike Jenkins of his team.
The challenge became less daunting when senior forward Marco Avitia scored within the first four minutes of the game, setting the tone for the remainder of the match between the two 4A Conference teams that were both losers in last season's state tournament play-in round.
“We knew they were pretty tough coming out from the start. We saw the amount of seniors they had,” Avitia said. “We just came off a good 6-1 win against Peoria, so we carried that energy over into this game.”
Late in the first half, the Eagles found another opportunity to score when starting sophomore midfielder Emmanuel De Niz got on a break-away run and sent a hard shot just to the left of the Chiefs goalkeeper.
The win keeps the Eagles unbeaten at 2-0.
Many of Flagstaff's scoring opportunities were created by long balls sent high in the air -- which Jenkins said is not the Eagles’ usual style of play.
“They kind of played over the top too much -- in my opinion,” Jenkins said. “Usually our strength is through the midfield. Today was different.”
Despite playing in a different style, the Eagles used speed and effort to make the offense tough to stop.
“My front line has got a ton of speed,” Jenkins said.
While the offense kept the pressure on, the defense allowed very few scoring attempts for the Chiefs. In one of Thunderbird's limited attempts at getting the ball in the goal during the first half, starting senior defender Sebastian Soto Duarte jumped and hit a header that was able to block the shot.
“I was just like, ‘I’m going to get this ball. I’m not going to get scored on, not by this team,'” the defender said.
At halftime, the score was 2-0.
“Defense did an excellent job at shutting them down,” Jenkins said.
Eagles goalkeeper Mark Cardenas could be heard from the stands directing his defensive line. According to Cardenas, his goal was to keep the defensive line disciplined enough to limit scoring opportunities.
“Discipline leads to victory. Defense wins championships,” Cardenas said.
While playing with a relatively new defense, the Eagles held off the Chiefs’ increased offensive pressure in the second half. In the middle of the second half, two of the Chiefs, Joel Goulbourne and Robert Wituschek, received yellow cards, but these fouls did not distract the Eagles.
“This new defense did great. We played as a group and we communicated a lot. Our strategy was to be on our man and not let the man do anything with the ball, and I think we did great with that,” Soto Duarte said.
But the Eagles know improvements can be made.
“We need to work on not letting our mark go in crucial times. We almost got scored on in the first half because of that,” explained Avitia, in reference to the shot that Soto Duarte saved.
An element of defense that the Eagles used as a strength was playing to the back. The Eagles used their defensive line and their keeper often to set up offensive plays as well. According to Cardenas, this is a way for the team to reset between plays.
“I’m like the recycling bin,” Cardenas said, “and I just distribute (the ball) and find other places.”
Flagstaff will be on the road to face the Deer Valley Skyhawks on Friday at 6 p.m.