By Steven Watkins
For the Forsyth County News
For the Lambert and South Forsyth boys soccer teams, there scarcely could have been different offseasons.
The last time the two teams met on the pitch, a single goal sent the Longhorns walking off as Class 7A State Champions. The War Eagles watched a magical season, with multiple last-kick victories, end in a 3-2 loss.
Since then, much has been made of the state of each roster as the two squads entered the 2019 season.
With 13 players returning from the previous year and head coach Chris Wilson still at the helm, expectations couldn’t have been much higher for the champion Longhorns. South on the other hand, entered the season with a new head coach in Chere’ Thomas and down a number of key starters.
On Tuesday night at South Forsyth, all speculation, expectations, comparisons and lingering possibilities were put aside, as the two teams met once again in their first replay of the previous season’s championship.
While both squads and each of their coaches would almost certainly tell you that a game within the first month of the season — even one against a rival — isn’t going to make or ruin their respective years regardless of the outcome, this was not something apparent from the intensity and tempo that transpired in Lambert's eventual 2-0 win.
Right out of the gate, both squads attacked with a playoff-caliber pace. One of South’s early chances came as a result of what Wilson said was something of an unexpected wrinkle.
“They didn’t do what we thought they were going to do, and it worked well the first half,” Wilson said. “They changed their formation and put number 14 (at the top,) that Shah kid—he’s fast. We’d thought he’d be out on the wing, so when he was at the top it kind of adjusted things.”
The “Shah kid,” or South senior Andrew Shah, won an early possession and found himself with a breakaway chance that took a last-second, diving stop by Lambert keeper Chris Smith to prevent what would have been an easy, tap-in first goal.
South keeper Carlos Guerrero made a diving save of his own to spoil an early shot by Lambert senior Hayden Fontana, who was coming off a first-half hat-trick in his previous game against North.
By the end of the half, despite a slight advantage for Lambert in both shots and possession, each team remained scoreless with neither appearing to possess any significant advantage in momentum.
In the second half, that all changed quickly.
On a second effort following a deflection, Lambert sophomore Yeonsung Lee fired a second-chance shot from inside the box that darted pass the South keeper and gave the Longhorns a 1-0 lead with 28:52 left in the game.
“I think tonight, whoever would have scored first the momentum would have shifted (their) way,” Wilson said. “We talked about a few things at halftime and adjusted to what they were trying to do.”
Roughly ten minutes later Lee fed Lambert captain and senior Jay Patterson with a nice look that very nearly led to a breakaway and ultimately resulted in a Longhorn free kick with 19:22 left to play. Patterson lined up, made his approach and fired a commanding shot that proved just hot enough for Guerrero to mishandle, deflecting off of the South keeper’s fingertips and into the net.
“I kind of just took an initial look at the keeper and noticed him kind of towards the back post more,” Patterson said. “I was trying to look for whipping it in and over the wall or around it, and having it dip a little the way it did and the keeper not being able to handle it, he kind of helped me out.”
Patterson’s goal both gave the Longhorns a 2-0 lead that they would not surrender as well as solidifying a noticeable second-half momentum change, with Lambert dominating the second-half time of possession and ultimately outshooting the War Eagles 9-6. Lambert boosted its record to 4-0-0 with the win, and South dropped to 2-3-1.
Lambert girls 9, South Forsyth 0
In the first game, the undefeated Lambert girls won their second-consecutive region game in equally dominant fashion, following their 7-0 victory over West Forsyth with a 9-0 win over the hosting War Eagles.
Lambert maintained a noticeable speed advantage for the entirety of the night, outshooting South by a margin of 17-4. The Longhorns improved to 5-0-0 with the win, and South fell to 1-5-0.