The Bishop Diego boys soccer team was unbeaten coming into its league opener against Laguna Blanca and it intended on keeping it that way.
The Cardinals came out and took advantage of a short-handed Owls team, jumping out to a three-score lead at the break before ultimately winning 4-2 at home Tuesday evening to improve to 4-0-1 on the season.
“You can only play the team that you’re up against that day so I think it’s a big win for our program. Us playing Laguna the last few years there’s been no competition and (this time) we could come out and play really good football,” Bishop Diego coach Mick Luckhurst said.
In the first half, it was all red and black out on the pitch.
After 20 minutes of Bishop trying to break through, it finally got a chance to finish a great shot. Senior co-captain Michael Romero corralled a loose ball on the pitch and put a great left boot to it, sending it past the keeper for the score.
“It’s funny, we have two or three guys that really can play both footed and that’s a big deal. Michael Romero is certainly one of those. It’s unusual at the high school level to have it gives us a lot more depth and it gives us opportunities which teams aren’t used to seeing that,” Luckhurst said.
Once Bishop’s midfield got going, it opened up the rest of the field for brothers Adam and Michael Luckhurst.
Within 14 minutes, Adam found Michael for a score and then Michael scored again, this time off a free kick from senior co-captain Daniel Giannini to give the Cardinals a resounding 3-0 lead at the break.
Despite being shellshocked in the first half, the Owls did their best to get back in the game. It started with an adjustment.
Normal star forward Luca Whalberg was moved back to defense. The goal was to allow him to have more opportunities touching the ball and working in open space after Bishop’s midfield comprised of Luke Williams, Osby Perez, Harry Powers and Romero disallowed him from making any big plays.
“They’re miserable to play against because they’re constantly pressuring, pressuring, pressuring, and it’s great football,” Luckhurst said.
The adjustment had near-instant success. Just two minutes into the first half, Whalberg drew a foul and scored off the ensuing free-kick.
Then, about 10 minutes later, Whalberg, with a full head of steam, was able to draw a handball in the box after dribbling nearly the last third of the field.
He put away the penalty kick to bring the Owls back to within one goal of leveling the match.
“He (Whalberg) is one of the most talented players on the field today so he has to understand, because he’s going to college Div. 1 hopefully, how to be effective (when you can’t get the ball) and so when he dropped, that’s what gave him momentum so he did a great job again today,” Laguna Blanca coach Goffin Boyoko said.
Asked what he told the team at halftime after falling behind 3-0, Boyoko said: “I just fired them up a little bit…”
The Owls certainly played more inspired soccer at the start of the second half, but a final goal from Michael would seal their fate.
Michael would tally a hat trick in the 67th minute off another pass from his brother Adam. Michael fired a shot to the right just inside the right post to all but give Bishop the 4-2 victory.
“I don’t want to trivialize three goals but Michael didn’t even play his best game. We’ll see what happens as time goes on but he needs a little bit more support but he’s just strong and then Adam can win the ball and pass it out through to him,” Luckhurst said of his two sons.
For Laguna Blanca (4-3-3), Boyoko said that his team’s lack of effort, besides the first 20 minutes of the second half is the reason they lost. Even beyond not having some key players, Boyoko said, “They just wanted it more.”
“They were first on every ball. They won it whenever there was a challenge. “If there were statistics like there is in college, I’m pretty sure it was 80% them in the challenges.”
And, for Luckhurst, even though Tuesday ended in a win he is more excited to see where the team can improve from here.
“We still don’t know where we are. To win 4-2 is a great victory and we’re ahead of where we have been but every game in this league is tough but we are unbeaten and that’s nice to say,” Luckhurst said.