Much of soccer is retaining possession, crisp passes and finishing on the other end.
The Mesa boys soccer team had the first two aspects of the game under control Friday night against Millennium, but having it pay off with a goal was a bit of a struggle early on for the Jackrabbits.
As much pressure as the Jackrabbits put on the Tigers the frustration of coming up short never deterred the offense from attacking and eventually Mesa found the back of the net in a 3-0 home win.
“It can be a frustrating game and we’ve had it in all our games,” Mesa coach TJ Hagen said. “We have to be able to finish. We never have that big-time goal scorer, so we have relied on getting that open look.”
The Jackrabbits (2-1) had several chances early on with five shots on goal in the first 12 minutes before Jesus Valenzuela took over.
The senior forward split two defenders on a breakaway and beat the Millennium goalie to his left to find the right corner of the net with just over 16 minutes left in the first half.
Valenzuela, who never played high school soccer until this year after transferring from Sun Valley High, said the first one – of the game and his career – allowed the team to settle in.
“That felt really good,” he said. “First one in high school. I felt good all day. We had some chances early, but didn’t score. That one got us going.”
After the 1-0 halftime lead, the Mesa defense was challenged more in the second half as the Tigers got more clear looks in the early going than the full 40 minutes of the first half.
The Jackrabbits back-half remained stout as senior captain Ivan Chaparro, Ruben Torres and Max Montes de Oca had enough deflections and steals to help goalie Daniel Peralta earn his first shutout of the season.
“It can get unorganized at times, but we talk through it and make the stops,” Chaparro said. “(Millennium) had a few more shots (in the second half). We did everything we had to stop them.”
The tension of a tight game disappeared after Valenzuela fed Danny Lopez, who high-kneed a ball for the second goal at 20:45, and then followed it up with his second goal of the night five minutes later with an assist from Aaron Vindiola.
“Without a doubt (Valenzuela) has been our most dangerous and impactful player,” Hagen said. “It’s good that he was able to score because he was getting a little frustrated. Against Basha (on Thursday) was in the middle of a lot of good things, but never scored (in a 5-2 win). It was his time tonight.”
The Jackrabbits head into the Coyote Classic at Campo Verde next week while still getting a feel for what they can be after replacing eight graduates from last year’s team.
“We have a couple different lineups we can roll with,” Hagen said. “We are still trying to find it after losing so many players. We had to fill that in and they’ve responded. We will keep running different lineups out there, so we can figure out exactly what we have to work with going forward.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.