The Person High School men’s soccer team hosted crosstown rival Roxboro Community School in its home opener Tuesday evening.
The Rockets jumped out to the lead on Arturo Rios’ goal late in the first half, but he game ended in a 1-1 tie, thanks to Nate Stovall’s second-half equalizer for the Bulldogs (2-2-1).
“I’m feeling a couple different ways,” Person (0-1-1) head coach Ryan Jones said. “On one hand, the development since our first game has been tremendous. For the majority of today’s match, I was impressed how we were playing through balls and communicating. But with that said, I’m also disappointed. We had a couple shots go off the crossbar and a couple calls that didn’t go our way. Tonight was just a lesson to all of us that one defensive breakdown can cost you the win.”
“The reason the first half was ugly was because there was zero communication,” RCS (2-2-1) head coach Chad Zuehlke said. “For the first five or 10 minutes of the game, we were knocking the ball around nicely and holding possession. Then, we stopped communicating and it all went to squat. When we started talking in the second half, we started dictating a little bit of the pace. That kept us in the game and from making bad mistakes in the back.”
After several chances, Rios netted the Rockets’ first goal of the season with time winding down in the opening half.
Rios took a beautiful pass from Elias Alcaraz in the box, pushed it past the outstretched arms of RCS goalkeeper Carver Pleasant and jogged to his teammates in celebration.
“That was a huge momentum booster,” Jones said. “We continued playing well after that, until we got a little complacent and flat-footed. Scoring that goal, especially after being shut out last game, was a huge morale booster.”
Person came out of the halftime break firing, recording the second half’s first five shots on goal.
The Bulldogs withstood the mid-match push and scored shortly after, when Stovall corralled a throw-in and sent it into the net through a crowd of Rockets.
“They created that goal,” Zuehlke said of his players. “The Person defense was back on its heels and then we had an opportunity inside the box. We had quite a few of those opportunities – they were all from changing fields. We held a little possession, we’re not forcing things forward, we lay the ball back, you’ve got the outside mid or back making an overlapping run, then we attack and try the box. If we play like that, we’re going to tire a team out and get them frustrated.”
RCS recorded a couple more shots on net, including another golden chance by Stovall that sailed just over the crossbar, only for Person goalkeeper Rolando Ramirez to run seemingly everything away.
“Rolando is the most important pair of eyes we have on the field because he is the only one who sees everything that is going on,” Jones said. “He doesn’t have his back to anybody and he’s very vocal, which we’re very thankful for. The guys are getting more comfortable playing back to him, allowing him to use his feet to shirt the field and switch sides. He’s definitely grown in that regard as well.”
The Rockets gained a pair of succeeding chances after Stovall’s tally, including one where they forced Pleasant to jump and make a save.
The Bulldog defense was equally as good, particularly in the second half, as J.D. Clayton and Alex Heindselman kept squashing every threat with clears and good passing.
“What I don’t want my defenders to do, is run up and boot the ball to see how far it goes,” Zuehlke said. “I want them to beat that first striker and play somebody up a whole possession. I went with a two-center back system tonight, so we’re supposed to have movement to set up, win the ball and take off in space. We’re trying to hold possession out of the back.”
Tuesday was Zuehlke’s first time coaching against PHS, as he spent the previous three seasons assisting Rick Baltes.
“Wherever I’m at, I’m going to give everything I’ve got for that program,” Zuehlke said. “This is my program at RCS, whereas I was sharing it at Person. There is more responsibility on me now. I want that because these guys are learning. Person has good kids, but RCS is my team now. I’m 100 percent with my guys and that’s how it’ll be.”
The Rockets began Central Conference play yesterday against Cedar Ridge, who entered the contest fresh off an 8-0 thumping of Eastern Guilford on Thursday. Person will also play 2019 3A state champion Walter M. Williams and last year’s champion, Western Alamance, in what should be a tough conference slate.
“That’s why I told the guys, they need to treat these first couple games as if they’re conference games,” Jones said. “Tonight was the first game, however, where I feel like we were both defending and creating chances consistently throughout the game. I hope to carry that forward to Cedar Ridge.”
RCS opens up Triangle North play against archrival Voyager Academy, who lost in last year’s 1A state final, at 6:30 p.m. today.
Zuehlke expects his team to be competitive throughout conference play.
“I don’t care who’s on my team, they’re not going to fully get a grasp of the season until 7-8 games in,” Zuehlke said. As long as they stay intact, they’re going to get it. It doesn’t really matter who you play. If you do the simple things right, you can compete with anybody.”
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