DENVER — In one of the most competitive games in men’s soccer this season in Lincoln County, it was the Lincolnton Wolves who reigned victorious Monday night over the East Lincoln Mustangs, topping them 4-2 in overtime play at David Clark Stadium, breaking the squad’s six-year losing streak at the Denver field.
While head coach Ian Leith felt his Lincolnton squad executed more skillful play than the Mustangs during the match, he criticized his team for lacking intensity and communication during most of the game, giving their opponent the chance to secure “two easy goals” during regulation.
However, overtime play was a different story for the Wolves.
“We were by far the most dominant,” Leith said. “We focused on team execution better.”
The Mustangs have one win and five conference losses this season. They are 3-12 overall, according to head coach Jason Dragoon.
The East Lincoln squad has had to sideline many key players this season due to injuries, including starting striker Brett Shanklin with a hurt hamstring and center back Michael Hernandez, who suffered a concussion in a match last month against West Iredell.
A total of five starters have had “limited, if any, training time” the last couple of weeks because of various injuries, Dragoon said.
The East Lincoln coach was confident about his team’s “solid game plan” going into Monday’s match.
“We looked to funnel all the play into the middle (of the field) and to crowd that space,” he said. The purpose of the strategy was to limit and prevent the Wolves from getting balls through to senior forward Dennis Rodriguez, who did manage to score a tie-breaking goal for the Wolves in the first minute of the second overtime period, giving his team a 3-2 lead over the Mustangs.
Dragoon also pointed out his team’s inexperience on offense, which contributed to a lack of shots.
“We had a lot of chances to score but lacked the experience up top to find the right shooting lane or the right contact on frame,” he said.
Early in the first half, the Mustangs took the lead with a goal from freshman Blake Strupp, who suited up to protect the goal at the five-minute mark, relieving junior teammate Tony Cardwell, who again took over the net following Lincolnton’s third goal in overtime play. Lincolnton secured their first goal at the 11-minute mark.
The rivals found themselves at a 1-1 draw at halftime, but it was sophomore Mustang Francisco Valazquez who knocked in his team’s second goal 11 minutes into the second half. The home squad kept the lead, ready to celebrate a victory, until their own goalkeeper deflected the ball into the net, tying up the score 2-2.
Lincolnton gained a fourth goal in the final minute of overtime play.
Despite the loss, Dragoon felt his team did well.
“All my boys played the game plan to perfection,” he said. “I don’t think we made any mistakes that led to the unfortunate result. In all honestly, I thought we deserved the win.”
He also praised the Wolves for their victory, particularly pointing out who he thought were key players in the match, senior defender Chad Smith and senior midfielder Jose Sanchez.
“Lincolnton is very talented,” he said.