The 2019 South Forsyth boys soccer team will inevitably be compared, by themselves and others, to a team that came just a win short of glory.
The 2018 War Eagles finished as Class 7A’s runner-up, falling in the state championship game to Lambert. But with a new head coach in place and plenty of new players filling the roles left by key seniors from that run, this year’s team is not nearly the same.
After a loss to Milton in their region opener last week, South found themselves down 1-0 late against West on Friday night, and those expectations, warranted or not, just kept reappearing in the War Eagles’ minds.
“We were struggling from our previous loss,” Luis Paz said. “We knew we had to step it up because we have a big reputation to follow from last season. I knew I had a big role to fill.”
And against the Wolverines, that’s what they ultimately did. Nick Postell scored the tying goal with just 12 minutes left in regulation, and in overtime, Paz notched the decisive score that eventually handed South its first region win of the year, a 2-1 result over West.
“I think it means a lot to our returners,” South head coach Cheré Thomas said. “I think it proved a lot to a lot of people as far as putting new pieces into the puzzle.”
The game started with a downpour, but the wet conditions didn’t stop West (0-3-2, 0-1 Region 5-7A) from pulling ahead early. From around 30 yards out, Aidan Meinart scored with 26:17 left in the first half. Early on, South (2-2-1, 1-1) had some opportunities to even the score, but Thomas felt like the effort wasn’t quite there in the first. She made sure to let her team know that at the break, when the War Eagles still trailed by just one.
“I think we came (into) the second half with a little bit of a better perspective on what we needed to do as far as effort,” she said. “In the first half we were sitting back a little bit too much and weren't playing our game. I think we just changed our tempo and outworked (them).”
Meinart opened the second half with a shot on goal that sailed just right of South’s goal, but from that point, the War Eagles owned the time of possession battle. They began to see many more scoring chances, and it seemed like only a matter of time before they would break through.
Postell’s score off the hands of West’s goalkeeper with 12:57 left did just that, inspiring South’s players to keep attacking. In the ensuing overtime period, Paz, a junior who wasn’t on last year’s team, remembered a play from a previous game as he saw the ball sailing his way in front of the net with 6:38 to play.
“I saw (Patrick Kelly) going down the wing and I saw him cross the ball in,” he said. “I had a similar situation in a game against Denmark, so I went for it again.”
South will have plenty of learning experiences like Paz’s this season. The War Eagles can only look to the future and work with what they’ve been dealt, and to Thomas, that’s more than enough.
“I think we're starting to try to get that chemistry started,” Thomas said. “We lost a lot of good players (from) last year, but I still have a good core group and good leadership.”
West Forsyth girls 3, South Forsyth 0
After a slow start, West (3-2-1, 1-0 Region 5-7A) began to put together some scoring opportunities and played well enough defensively in the second half to earn their first region win of the season.
Right after having her first shot blocked, West freshman Emma Armstrong took a cross off the deflection and put the ball right back in front of the net off the fingertips of South goalkeeper Livi Ellington with 28:38 left in the first half.
With 18:50 left until halftime, West’s Natalia Reyes was fouled just inside the box, and Courtney Jebavy converted the ensuing penalty kick to extend the Wolverines’ lead to 2-0.
South (1-4-0, 0-2) began to play more aggressively in the second half, but West was able to make the saves and defensive plays to keep its lead intact. With 12:16 left to play, Rachel Hale put the balk in the net off another cross, all but securing the Wolverines’ victory.