RIVERDALE – Everything was off for the Parkdale boys’ soccer team.
Despite being the aggressor for large stretches against their crosstown rival Bladensburg, the Panthers were still tied at one heading into the final minute of the match.
However, with less than 10 seconds remaining, a foul call outside of the penalty area gave the Panthers a chance to pick up the victory without going into overtime. Parkdale Head Coach Mark Brown began shouting to his players to have junior Saul Martinez take the 20-yard free kick.
“He’s a great player, but we’re trying to get him more confidence in himself and make him more dominant on the field,” Brown said. “Me and (Assistant Coach Mario Moonasingh) looked at each other and said, ‘who can win us the game?’ The first name to pop up was his.”
As the Mustang defense prepared itself for the shot, the midfielder quickly hit a direct, dipping shot over the wall following the referee’s whistle. The ball dropped instantly next to the right goal post, spanking the net for the game-winner.
“I knew as soon as he blew the whistle and the goalie was still setting up the wall to go for it,” Martinez said.
Martinez’s late strike was the final kick of a dramatic, hostile, yet entertaining 80 minutes of soccer between area rivals. Parkdale survived the battle defeating Bladensburg, 2-1, on Sept. 22.
In his first season as head coach, Brown has continued the possession-style, pass-heavy strategy that has slowly developed at Parkdale (3-1). In the early moments, the Panthers looked poised to hold the ball all game, making sharp ground passes and taking shots at will. They dominated control throughout the match, outshooting Bladensburg 12-6.
However, the Mustangs (2-1-1) withstood the pressure with a solid backline and six saves by first-year goalkeeper Adekola Adebayo.
Despite letting go of the lead in the final 10 minutes and being caught off-guard on Parkdale’s second goal, Bladensburg Head Coach Juliana Ocampos-Barry praised her defense, specifically her young goalkeeper’s performance.
“The game-winner was not his fault,” Ocampos-Barry said. “He is still learning. He came from another county and is not used to being coached. So, just to throw him in and ask him to perform, I know it is tough for him. I hope it is something that he will never forget, it is ingrained and he never forgets.”
Bladensburg’s counterattack, led by midfielder/forward José Argueta and senior Rodrigo Moreno, caught the Panthers off-guard when the Mustangs came out in spurts. Early in the second half, Argueta shot a quick one-timer on a loose ball inside Parkdale’s penalty area. The strike rolled past goalkeeper Aboubacarar Sinera to give the Mustangs the lead.
For 28 minutes, Parkdale pushed its attack forward, winning corner kicks and taking shots from a distance. Junior midfielder Axayacatl Hernandez finally broke through the Mustang defensive line after receiving a through-ball pass, sneaking away from the defense and scoring the tying goal.
Both teams fought for the game-winner, leading to crushing tackles and fouls. With less than four minutes remaining, Bladensburg captain and defender Miguel Contreras was given a straight red card after a late tackle from behind. Bladensburg played the final moments of the game down a player and without one of its leaders on the backline.
Parkdale’s victory helps the team gain confidence heading into the tougher part of its backloaded schedule, when the Panthers will travel to Bowie and host regional champion Eleanor Roosevelt. With players excited to play more possession-based soccer, Brown said he hopes the team continues improving throughout the season and beyond.
“We are happy sticking with the style,” Hernandez said. “(Brown) does great in practice, and he teaches us a lot. I think as the season goes on, the better we will get.”
Despite the loss, the Mustangs’ defense played a solid 70 minutes, allowing Ocampos-Barry to start focusing on the offensive side of the ball while still providing Adebayo more practice in goal. With nine juniors, Bladensburg wants to start competing and building right away, during league play, before the state playoffs.
“We need to work more physically and hold the ball more on the ground,” Argueta said. “If we can improve our ball control in the midfield, we will be better for the next game.”