HYATTSVILLE – Despite taking shot after shot, the Northwestern boys’ soccer team could not score.
The Wildcats, known for their build-up attack through quick passing, could not find the scoring touch in the run of play. However, last year’s 4A Regional semifinalists have added a new wrinkle to their offensive prowess: set pieces, or designed plays off restarts.
“We want to score with every chance we have,” Northwestern Head Coach Victor Ramirez said. “However, it is a new dimension to the game we are adding here. We have been working on set pieces and sometimes, you need them in tough games.”
The restarts allow the Wildcats to hit teams with quick plays for goals. Playing against a feisty, but shorthanded DuVal team, Northwestern scored two goals in five minutes in the second half, solidifying a 4-2 victory on Oct. 12. With the win, Northwestern (7-1-1) won its fourth consecutive match and improved its unbeaten streak to six games.
Seconds after kickoff and a quick foul by the visitors, Northwestern sophomore Didier Estrada struck first, scoring on an empty net after a deep pass off a midfield free kick. Moments later, senior midfielder Linuel Tebit smacked a curling free kick from outside the penalty area off the right goal post and into the net.
Despite scoring the game’s first two goals, Northwestern failed to capitalize on its next 12 shots on goal. DuVal (3-6) pressured the home side with fast counterattacks while senior goalkeeper Malcolm Eleweanya reorganized the defense. Minutes before halftime, junior Antony Baires-Arita floated a 35-yard shot over goalkeeper Enner Coronado to cut the Northwestern lead to one.
“We are still progressing as a unit,” Eleweanya said. “Our gameplan was to keep the ball on the ground because we knew it was going to be wet. We wanted to play fast, but overall, they got the better of us, regarding strategy, in-game concentration and that is what beat us.”
Roles flipped at the start of the second half as the Tigers were the aggressor, holding onto the majority of possession and looking for a final pass to score. Northwestern was in the uncomfortable position of defending and counterattack.
Eleweanya continued his stellar performance in goal for DuVal, recording three of his eight saves in the second half. A collision with Wildcat attacker injured his right foot and caused him to miss about 10 minutes as he got treated.
Northwestern took advantage of the injury, quickly jumping on the Tigers’ defense. Set pieces became vital once again, starting with senior midfielder Juan Lopez who scored a 10-yard shot following a throw-in.
“We have slowly become a set piece team,” striker Daronte O’Neal said. “Lately we have to keep working on our shooting and worry less on set pieces since we already got that down.”
Two minutes later, O’Neal, who impressed the coaching staff in tryouts, scored his sixth goal of the season with a snapping header off another deep free-kick pass from midfield, killing off any chance of a DuVal comeback.
“He has a nose for the goal and we need scorers,” Ramirez said. “He has been reliable and is scoring virtually every game and in crucial moments. During the preseason we noticed he is quick to the ball and good in the air. That was something we were missing last year.”
Even with the game out of reach, DuVal freshman Williams Yami-Nano scored on a 20-yard rocket, beating two Northwestern defenders before the end of the game.
Currently boasting one of the county’s best records, Northwestern hopes to get a first-round bye in this year’s state playoffs.