Royals top Knights in Central District battle royale
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Apr 12, 2013, 20:44
Prince George High School defender Angela Poreda (15) and Thomas Dale forward Regan Flores (3) compete for possession during a Central District game on Thursday. Poreda scored in the final seconds to clinch the Royals’ first victory over the reigning-champion Knights since the 1996 district tournament (photo by David Breidenbach).
PRINCE GEORGE – Prince George girls soccer coach Kendell Warren was at a loss for words. Senior forward Valerie Belcher couldn’t catch her breath.
Such were the side effects of a monumental victory 17 years in the making.
Buoyed by second-half goals from Belcher and Angela Poreda, Prince George topped perennial powerhouse Thomas Dale with a 2-0 home victory on Thursday. The triumph was the Royals’ first over the reigning-champion Knights since the 1996 Central District tournament.
“I’m just ecstatic for the girls,” Warren said. “This group, especially the seniors, has worked so hard.”
The long-awaited breakthrough didn’t come easy.
The contentious – sometimes chippy – nature of the match is reflected in the final statistics. The Royals held a 6-5 edge in shots on goal and were whistled for nine infractions, two more than the Knights. Both teams won four corner kicks.
“Out of eight years of coaching, that was probably the best soccer game I’ve seen between two Central District teams,” said Thomas Dale coach John Kabler. “It really came down to who got the breaks.”
The game began in back-and-forth fashion, a midfield duel played mostly in the middle third of the field. The first chance fell to Thomas Dale senior Regan Flores, who nearly put the visitors out front after seven minutes.
The fleet-footed forward latched onto a bobbling ball near the edge of the penalty area and attempted to lob a shot over Sarah Stech, the Royals’ onrushing goalkeeper.
Stech got a hand on the effort, and a backtracking Prince George defender cleared the ball from inside the six-yard box. Flores, whose tireless work as the Knights’ lone striker caused a steady stream of problems for the Royals’ backline, might also have scored on the stroke of halftime if not for another save from Prince George’s sophomore netminder.
“That first half was the worst half that we have played all season,” Warren said. “We were just all over the place. We were focused, but we had to get past their mystique.”
The Knights enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession in the first half and earned six set pieces – two corner kicks, four free kicks in advanced positions – that allowed for a cross into the Royals’ 18-yard box.
None resulted in quality goal-scoring chances, however, and the two teams stepped off the pitch at halftime still entangled in a scoreless deadlock. As the game wore on, the juxtaposition between the teams’ playing styles became increasingly evident.
Thomas Dale patiently probed the Prince George defense in search of an opening while the Royals favored a counter-attacking approach that Warren said was designed to exploit the Knights’ flat-back-four defensive formation.
Neither found much success until Belcher struck without warning in the 73rd minute.
The game-winning sequence began when Prince George center midfielder Dallas Smith corralled a bouncing ball following a short goal kick. Smith took two touches before releasing Belcher down the left flank with a defense-splitting through ball.
Belcher took it from there, cutting inside her defender and dispatching a right-footed shot that trickled past Thomas Dale goalkeeper Allie Haas and into the net for a 1-0 lead.
“I was going to pass it to [forward JoJo Taylor],” Belcher said. “But then I saw that I had an open path to goal, so I just took a touch and placed it into the corner.”
With seven minutes remaining, the Royals seemed content to sit back and defend their slender advantage. Poreda had other ideas.
With seconds left to play, the senior defender sized up a free kick from 40 yards out and unleashed a shot that looped over defenders and attackers alike before dipping underneath the crossbar and into the goal.
“We just wanted her to play it to the corner, to put some air underneath it and waste some time,” Warren said. “But she put it on goal and scored.”
The final whistle sounded seconds after Poreda’s wonder strike, sending the Prince George sideline into a state of pandemonium and endowing the victors with a sense of validation.
“I think this game is just going to give them more confidence,” Warren said. “If we can get through next week, then I think it becomes one of those things where they just don’t believe they can be beat.”
Kabler – who called the result “a wake-up call” – said he hopes the setback will reignite a sense of urgency in his team. “Hopefully this is something that will get us going,” he said.
With the loss, the Knights fell to 3-1 in district play and overall. The Royals, who improved to 3-0 in district outings and 5-1 on the season, must now shift their gaze to next week’s clashes with district contenders Colonial Heights and Matoaca.
“We just have to keep our head on straight,” Belcher said. “We can’t think that we have it now. We still have to play hard and get through it.”
The Prince George High School girls soccer team celebrates a 2-0 victory over Thomas Dale on Thursday. The Royals scored twice in the final 10 minutes to win at home (photo by David Breidenbach).