Royals Speed By Knights
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Apr 8, 2014, 22:11
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
CHESTER — Prince George stepped off the bus and onto the pitch knowing the type of history they faced at Thomas Dale. They knew they possessed a team which could knock off the Knights, but so did the Royals' teams of yesteryears as the program compiled 13 consecutive years of futility against the perennial powerhouse.
And for the first 10 minutes of play, it looked likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future as the Knights dictated the pace of the game from the opening whistle. It was Thomas Dale's offense charging right up the field with short, precise passes to draw a corner-kick just 30 seconds into the match.
Yet, the corner attempt from Matt Mangano had too much in-swinging movement as it hit the near side of net to go out of bounds. Then, two minutes later the Knights had themselves another corner and the chances continued to present themselves. A goal was forthcoming and it finally came in the 29' minute off the foot of Austin Hylton after goalkeeper Logan Chadek came out to stop Mangano and it deflected past him for the striker to hammer home.
While the Knights celebrated the strike, there was no sense of panic for the Royals. Instead, there was urgency as Prince George tilted the pitch in their favor as they began to fire shots toward net without hesitation. Three minutes later, the Royals had their goal off a left-footed crack from Kam Smith just outside the box into the upper 90.
The ridiculous blast shellshocked Thomas Dale and energized the Royals who would tack on three additional second half strikes en route a 4-1 win for one of their biggest wins in program history.
"I thought they were winning all the balls," Prince George head coach Tom Harrison said following the game. "Especially in the midfield. But then we were able to settle down and we became a little bit more aggressive at winning balls ourselves."
Settle down would be an understatement.
His Prince George (4-1-0) squad completely dominated the game from the time the Knights (2-1-0) found net and it began with their team speed. In almost every position on the field, the Royals seem to have an extra gear to get to the 50/50 balls which determine wins and losses.
There was Bryant Marks patrolling the right midfield chasing down loose balls and playing well in the hold up play. Then there was Cleo Lee being a human vacuum cleaner from the center back position, hauling in loose balls, cutting down angles and repossessing the ball with timely tackles.
Fresh from the loss, even Thomas Dale head coach Mark Fowler was astonished by the fleet-footed Royals.
"Absolutely, all over the park," Fowler said of Prince George. "In the back, up top, very quick and obviously too quick for us."
And while it may have gone unnoticed, it was the team-speed which was instrumental in not just the Prince George offense but the defense. It allowed Harrison's team to play a higher line as they knew they could beat the Knights in any foot race for loose balls.
In fact, the high line caused fits for Thomas Dale as they were forced into 10 offsides. Additionally, it allowed the Royals to sit back defensively and let Thomas Dale come to them instead of being drawn in by the quick-passing attack resulting in a solid defensive performance.
"If we didn't have the type of speed we have in the back, there's no way we can take those chances," Harrison said of the high line. "That speed allows us to play higher which makes us more compact and keeps them from cutting us up with passing."
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
Cutting up a defense with passing would be the work of the Royals specifically Mitchell Smith in the midfield. The co-captain of Prince George routinely regained possession of the ball in the midfield and never rushed the pace of play.
Instead, Smith would survey the field before making the right reads with either diagonal through-balls, high-arching crosses or an offensive run into the box. Yet, while his play was impressive, no player was more impressive than Kam Smith.
Kam Smith's opening goal set the Royals ablaze, but that was not his only impact on the game. Playing in the lone striker role, Smith routinely tracked back into the midfield before receiving passes from the back. While he would be immediately surrounded by Knights' defenders, Smith used his body as a shield and made a difference in his hold-up play to help set up the Royals down the flanks.
Additionally, Smith was deadly in the final third with his opening salvo in the 22' minute and the game's bookending goal in the 74' minute. Smith deftly aligned himself perfectly on the far post and with one move kicked the ball into net as it Darion Mealing's attempt for his second goal caromed off the crossbar and onto the foot of Smith for his second tally.
"Kam had a great game," Harrison said. "I was most impressed with holding it up and his ability to come out. We've been on him to move back there and not stay so central and make it easy for the opponents to mark him. Man, he just did a great job of that today."
So did Prince George as a whole in earning a win over Thomas Dale, but the victory is not the end-all for a program on the rise. They know if they want to reach the level of Thomas Dale, they will need to bring out this type of effort in each game and if it happens, the Royals may roll in the Conference 12 Tournament.