With a state tourament berth all but wrapped up, the HRV boys soccer team merely needs to hold serve in its final two home games to guarantee a first-round game at home.
After falling 3-0 to Central Catholic on Oct. 18, the players understand that there is still much work to be done if they are to advance past the first round of the state tournament -- a goal they set before the season began.
Oct. 22's game versus Reynolds started slow, but the second half was business as usual, as the Eagles topped the Raiders 3-0 at Westside Elementary, recording their eighth shutout and running their season record to 12-1.
The rain-soaked field and constant drizzle made for an interesting first half of play in which the Eagles dominated, but couldn't find the back of the net.
But the drought didn't last long. Just as they have done all season, HRV poured it on in the second half by playing their short passing game to flood the Raiders’ defense with quick through balls and crosses from both corners.
Jordan Thompson, Alex Ponce and Corey Vandlac scored, and Matt Dallman delivered an assist for the Eagles as they methodically broke down the Reynolds back line.
Dallman set up the first goal with a cross from the right side to Ponce, who hit a strong shot from the top of the box that hit the post and deflected to Vandlac in front of the net to make it 1-0.
Just minutes later, Thompson directed a pass through a gauntlet of defenders to Ponce breaking down the left side. He calmly chipped the ball over the sliding goalie to make it 2-0.
Thompson got on the scoreboard later in the half when Dallman bent a freekick into the box from the left side. The kick hit Thompson in full stride at the penalty spot, where he redirected the ball into the goal with his head.
HRV will looked to add another shutout to its near-perfect season against winless Parkrose Wednesday at Westside Elementary, but results were not yet available. State tournament play begins Nov. 3.
The runaway train that is the HRV boys soccer team finally ran into a roadblock Oct. 18 in Portland, losing its first game of the season 3-0 to Central Catholic.
The Eagles' much-anticipated match against the Rams was to be their biggest test of the season, and within 15 minutes of the first half, the players would have probably preferred a retest.
"This was a test we needed," coach Doug Beveridge said. "It's better to run into a team like this now, rather than in the playoffs when it's too late."
A fast, physical Central squad came out firing from the opening whistle and surprised the Eagles with long through balls and unrelenting defensive pressure to back them into a corner.
Central started the game like a team possessed, winning every ball in the midfield, tackling away everything in the backfield, and outwitting the HRV backs on three quick strikes in the first 15 minutes -- two by Dante Maciel and one by A.J. Carboneau.
The Rams also managed to handcuff HRV’s offense the entire first half, allowing only two shots -- both outside the penalty box -- and completely disrupting any rhythm the Eagles had coming into the game.
By halftime, HRV looked shellshocked, never having been down a goal, let alone three, all season. But Beveridge and assistant coach Peter Dallman encouraged the players that "if Central can score three goals in a half, so can we."
The key was to come out in the second half like the Rams did in the first and get one goal right from the outset to slowly whittle away the lead.
HRV responded, matching the Rams' intensity and proving they belonged on the same field. The Rams continued to play HRV tough, but were often outclassed by the Eagles' high-velocity attack.
But despite breaking down the Rams' defense for a barrage of second-half shots, not one found the back of the net.
"Some games you get those breaks and others you don't," Beveridge said. "The second half at least gave us some positives to take away from this game."
One thing that helped the Eagles refocus in the second half was the realization that their skills were just as good as the Rams'.
Alexander Ponce started working his magic off the dribble, Matt Dallman sent a slew of perfect crosses into the box, while Josh Kitts, Dereck Ponce and Jordan Thompson directed traffic in the middle.
The defensive unit of Ben Saur, John Wall, Nestor Elisea and Arnolfo Santillian consistently outworked the Rams’ forwards to help HRV maintain possession throughout the half, and Rafael Mondragon made some key saves to keep the Eagles within striking distance.
Although Central appeared to tire in the second half, they still played consistent enough to protect the lead and orchestrate a formidable counter attack.
"Central is a big, strong team and is going to do some damage in the playoffs," Beveridge said. "They're good, but we also hope to get another chance against them."