Boys Soccer:Knights stay in Ocean race

Knights stay in Ocean race

February 11, 2017, 05:00 AM By Nathan Mollat, Daily Journal 

The sign of a great soccer team is an ability to make changes on the fly.

Right now, the Hillsdale boys’ soccer team is good, aspiring to be great. So when coach Chris Rodman asked his team to change its style of attack during the first half of its game with visiting Half Moon Bay, it worked so well the Knights had difficulty transitioning back to their more traditional style of possessive play in the second half.

Perhaps that’s what led Rodman to be a little frustrated following his team’s 2-0 win over the Cougars.

“That was ugly soccer,” Rodman said. “We went away from our game plan. I think we got a little complacent.”

Rodman couldn’t be too upset, however. It was the Knights’ sixth win in a row.

It’s hard to blame the Knights for sticking with what worked in the first half as a direct, aggressive approach led to a pair of first-half goals.

“That’s not normally our style,” Rodman said.

Hillsdale spent most of the first half using just one or two touches before trying to beat the Half Moon Bay defense over the top. The Knights got a couple of good looks in the opening minutes, saw it was working so well and stayed with it.

But instead of changing back in the second half to a more possession-oriented game, to nurse the clock and protect one of the most tenuous leads in the game of soccer, the Knights couldn’t — or wouldn’t.

At halftime, Rodman asked his team to try and hold the ball longer and look for developing holes, but it appeared the Knights got impatient with that style as it did not develop quickly enough and they went back on the attack. After getting off six shots in the first half, Hillsdale peppered the Half Moon Bay goal in the second, finishing with 12 more shots — eight of which were on frame.

“Sometimes when you change things up, it’s hard to change back,” Rodman said. “If we would have passed it around, we would have found the holes (in the Half Moon Bay defense).”

If not for the play of Cougars goalkeeper Nathan Hart, Hillsdale could have easily scored three or four more goals. Hart finished with 11 saves for the game, eight in the second half alone.

Hart was helpless on Hillsdale’s two, first-half goals, however. After having already made a dangerous run in the opening minute, Hillsdale’s Neel Prasad latched onto a ball sent over the top of the Half Moon Bay defense by Cole Jensen. Prasad caught a break when the Cougar defender got his legs tangled up as Prasad made a cut behind him, which freed Prasad up for a run at goal. With a defender on his shoulder and Hart off his line hoping to limit Prasad’s choices, the Hillsdale striker calmly touched the ball around a sprawled Hart and nonchalantly slotted a shot home to give the host Knights a 1-0 lead just five minutes into the game.

The Cougars appeared to wake up after that tally and actually started to get the better of the Knights. It was Half Moon Bay that was dominating possession, which was due in large part to Hillsdale’s reluctance to hold the ball for more than two or three passes before launching forays on goal.

But the Cougars just could not seem to find the link between their midfielders and their forwards. Despite controlling things in the midfield, Half Moon Bay struggled in the final attacking third.

A lot of credit has to go to Hillsdale’ back line. Anchored by Jensen and Oisin Doherty Fagan, the Knights simply shut down any attack that came out of the midfield. The backline, along with goalkeeper Damon Prasad, recorded their fourth straight shutout in Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division play.

Midway through the first half, the Knights got some breathing room with its second goal. This time it was Evan Snodgrass running onto a through ball from the back. With a step on his defender and Hart coming off his line, Snodgrass tried to flick a shot with the outside of his right foot past the charging Cougar goalkeeper, who managed to get a hand on the ball and deflect it away from goal.

But Hillsdale’s Juan Carlos Giles-Cuevas, who had been on the field for about a minute as an injury replacement, was right there and pounced on the loose ball. He tapped a shot home from no more than a few feet away from the goal just before Hart could recover to double Hillsdale’s lead to 2-0.

“He’s done that a couple of times this year,” Rodman said of Giles-Cuevas.

The win keeps the Knights on the heels of division-leading El Camino with three games left in the regular season. Only the Ocean Division champion receives an automatic berth to the Central Coast Section tournament, so the Knights are in playoff-mode right now.

Coming into Friday’s game, Hillsdale trailed El Camino by five points, 27-22. The two teams will face off next Wednesday at Hillsdale in their penultimate game before closing the regular season against third-place San Mateo.

It will be a tough week for the Knights, however, as they have a game against Jefferson Monday to give the Knights three matches on the final week of the season.

“Our mindset has been looking ahead,” Rodman said. “Not that we were looking past this (Half Moon Bay) game.”

 

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