Dragons force the issue

LAKE PLACID - There's a reason PA announcer Tim Saenz calls soccer the hottest sport going at Lake Placid High School.

Winners of seven straight, the Green Dragons boys rebounded from an 0-1 deficit against Class 2A-District 10 foe Mulberry Thursday night at Roger Scarborough Memorial Field to force a 1-1 tie, keeping them perfect in the loss column.

The stalemate also kept Lake Placid (9-0-2, 6-0-2) atop the district standings, while Mulberry (10-3-3, 3-2-2) sits mired in third place.

"A tie is not good, but at the end of the day, when asked would you rather win or lose, I'd rather just not have a knock in the loss column," said Dragons coach James Ashley.

"Mulberry is a good team - that's what the district tournament is going to look like - they've got some skill and some great players. We just didn't capitalize when we needed to."

In the opening minutes, Lake Placid dominated in terms of ball possession. The Dragons bombarded Mulberry goalkeeper Eduardo Angeles with nearly 10 shots just minutes after the opening whistle. But he sent Lake Placid away without a score each time thanks to a litany of highlight-worthy saves.

When Mulberry did manage to get the ball into Dragons territory, the Panthers often could only boot the a long pass down field - Lake Placid's defensive attack was just too tenacious.

The Dragons continued their assault on Angeles as the first half wound down, which included a shot that bounced off of the crossbar and another header that rolled just wide. The half ended in a scoreless tie.

In the second half, Lake Placid picked up right where it left off, blasting a handful of shots at Angeles. But once again, his defense got the upper hand and he kept the Dragons off of the scoreboard.

Noticeable frustration started to set in for a handful of Lake Placid players, who were befuddled that the Panthers, who the Dragons had previously beat in Mulberry 3-2, were suddenly so adept on defense.

"There were a couple of guys that I had to tell to wake it up," Ashley said. "If I have to say that, then we're in trouble. But what that tells me is that we haven't peaked yet. You can't just expect to get a goal, you've got to fight for it."

Lake Placid had a very opportune scoring play taken away by a questionable no-call, as a Dragon player was tackled inside the box by a Panther defender. Officials whistled no foul, enraging Dragons players and fans. Moments later, Victor Hernandez scored Mulberry's only goal of the night to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead.

"That goal happened because of miscommunication," Ashley said. "It was the one chance Mulberry had all night to score and we gave it away. That score actually happened back at midfield. We stop the ball there, it doesn't go down field. That doesn't excuse the back line, but it's a team sport, and everyone's got to do their assignment. You can't put extra pressure on your teammates."

Following the Mulberry goal, Ashley took his team aside to offer some words of encouragement.

"I told them to fight back," he said. "It's either fight back or lose the game."

The Dragons took the message to heart, and in the 73rd minute, Yoyi Gomez had a one-on-one with Angeles. Following some fancy dribbling, he put Angeles on his heels, and scooted the ball past him and into the back of the net.

In the closing minutes, neither team was able to mount another scoring attack.

"I thought the player who was most consistent tonight was Jose Becerra," Ashley said. "He didn't let many balls through, he didn't let many balls bounce, and he was there to challenge. He probably challenged and pretty much won 98 percent of the balls that came to him. And the little bit of errors that did happen, those are going to happen in this game."

Lake Placid's final home match of the season will be on Jan. 7 against Hardee. It will also be the Dragons Senior Night. The game is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.