The Queens Grant Stallions Men’s Soccer team opened up their playoff run with a solid second half scoring all three goals to defeat Highland School of Technology 3-0.
In the first half the young Stallions struggled to get into the flow of the match. Their opponent seemed to press them offensively and kept dropping back an extra defender in the box area to spy on the teams leading scorer Mario Portillo.
Every time Portillo tried to position himself inside the box a strong athletic defender would not give him the space needed to set up a scoring opportunity. Therefore, frustrating the Stallions attack while picking off passes from teammates.
This strategy was successful in the first half as either team scored while Highland could not mount many offensive shots on goal due to a solid defense. The Stallions had more opportunities to cash in, however, they could not finish.
In the second half Head Coach Mark Guercio who has years of playoff experience made some adjustments to free up Portillo and the Stallions offense. Also, whatever his message was it calmed down the players who had six starters without any previous playoff experience. In the playoffs its sudden death and the stakes are high. The players must recognize this factor and step up the tempo of their game while keeping their composure.
At the 10th minute of the second half, the Stallions would strike on a breakaway inside the corner of the box when Portillo would find an opening and slam a rocket past the diving goalkeeper for a 1-0 lead.
Midway through the half Portillo would again find a crease on a nice feed pass from teammate Micah Parker who just returned to the lineup, he would hit another missile past the goalkeeper to give the Stallions a comfortable 2-0 advantage.
With approximately 15 minutes remaining, defender Nick Duke would get a great opportunity to score. He slapped a winner into the left corner of the goal post past the goalkeeper to ice the game and the 3-0 second half rout was complete.
The second half adjustments made, the faster tempo, the more aggressive play, much improved crisp passing and solid defense along with controlling the time of possession all combined equate to a very positive outcome for the Stallions.
Head Coach Mark Guercio remarked after the game, “The boys were much stronger in the second half. Some of our issues were due to just first game nerves. We had six players starting their first playoff game. Give some credit to Highland Technology, I thought their energy in the first half was great and put us on our heels a bit.”
The Stallions will now hit the road and move on to the second round of the NCHSAA 1A Soccer Championships and will play on Tuesday.