Royals Overcome Flat Start For Win
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
May 2, 2014, 12:57
Darion Mealing played tough defense and opened the scoring for Prince George
PRINCE GEORGE — One would be hard-pressed to find a soccer team more impressive than the Royals with the way they have started their season. After finishing last season with a 10-6-1 record, Prince George has built off their previous success and experiences.
It has resulted in a historic road win over Thomas Dale — a 4-1 victory dismantling of the Knights which was their first home loss to a Central District team under head coach Mark Fowler — and an even more impressive 1-0 victory over a Meadowbrook team off to one of their best starts in recent history. It's why the Royals were a confident team heading into their match against Hopewell.
After all, Prince George had won six matches in a row and had defeated the Blue Devils earlier this season 5-1 at Merner Field. However, once the match got underway, the Royals were shellshocked.
Hopewell dictated much of the action and continually pushed the attack up pitch, showing off the relentlessness that has become common-place to the Royals this season. Yet, even though Prince George was able to sustain some attacks at different points during the first half as well as fire off eight shot attempts, it wasn't until the second half where they started to take control.
After another quick surge from the Blue Devils which was quickly snuffed out in the back, the Royals flipped the script on Hopewell and became active in the final third. Chance after chance presented itself before Darion Mealing's left-footed blast into the lower left-corner of net found twine to put the Royals on the board.
The goal was all the Royals needed to reestablish themselves while adding two more late tallies to capture a 3-0 shutout in a win they had to work for.
"I just didn't think they were prepared to play the game," head coach Tom Harrison said after his team persevered. "They just didn't seem to be playing with the intensity we've had for the last couple of weeks ... it was almost like they underestimated Hopewell which they shouldn't."
And it was their underestimation of the Blue Devils (1-7-1) which could have proved costly if not for the work-rate by Mealing in the critical first half of action.
Playing without normal left back Hunter Bartlett, Harrison chose to insert his most dangerous offensive weapon into his place with the hope of getting him more unmarked runs into the opponent's box. However, Mealing found himself playing a critical defensive role as Hopewell continued to push hard up the left-flank.
As the Blue Devils continually threaded through-balls in behind the Royals' (8-1) defense for Tyler Jordan and Quaron Fitzgerald, two dangerous finishers, it was Mealing who found himself tracking back to end each scoring chance. The senior captain not only chased down the Hopewell players with his defense, but fought them off the ball with his physical play.
Even more impressive is once he regained possession, Mealing was able to pivot and turn upfield to start another Royals' attack. It was the type of effort that impressed Harrison while the rest of his team struggled.
"We are normally really aggressive in the back and we're missing Hunter, so we decided to put Darion back there for a couple of reasons," Harrison explained. "A lot of teams man-mark him when he's in the midfield, so we're hoping to get some deeper runs, but it was a good thing we had him back there. He really had to to play some defense back there."
But one player stood out offensively for Prince throughout the game and it was striker Kam Smith.
Mitchell Smith helped connect passes through the midfield for both Kam Smith and Mealing to finish
The senior has been looked upon as the player who can excel in hold-up play while remaining active offensively by peppering the net with attempts from distance. Smith didn't disappoint either.
He was the danger man for the Royals with his consistent ability to find soft spots in the Hopewell defense to fire off shots, but his mechanics went awry all game long. Instead of planting over the ball, he fell into the habit of leaning back and it caused all his strong attempts to go high through the uprights behind the goal.
However, the fact Smith was once again able to create shots for himself is a positive sign for the Royals as is the added scores from Jose Zepada and Chase Hewett as Prince George has struggled to find a viable third scoring option. Additionally, having to fight their way to a tough win may have been just what the Royals needed as the season enters its final month.
"We have to show up to every game, no matter who the opponent is," Harrison said of what he told his team. "Unfortunately, even as coaches we look at records and compare opponents ... it comes down who came to play that particular night and Hopewell really came to play."
But the Royals were able to overcome their flat start to fight their way to a seventh consecutive win while learning a valuable lesson. Whether the lesson taught will be just what the team needed or a warning sign of events to unfold, remain to be seen.