The Chandler Wolves boys soccer team continued their undefeated season for at least another game Wednesday, with a 2-0 home victory over Mesa, in the first round of the AIA 6A playoffs.
The win comes just eight days after the Jackrabbits played Chandler to a 2-2 draw, in the last game of the regular season.
Early on, Chandler was the more organized team, holding a major advantage in possession with short, crisp touches and runs. The Chandler front line and midfielders made it difficult for Mesa to advance the ball much further than midfield, and did so mostly on long balls that provided little challenge for the back line.
“We were able to keep possession and move the ball quicker, be quicker on transitions. We stopped looking for the long ball, which stopped up the game a little bit and controlled possession,” Chandler midfielder Josue Saenz said.
Saenz was responsible for Chandler’s first goal in the 12th minute. The Wolves capitalized on a short goal kick, passing around the box until Saenz lined up a shot and blasted it into the bottom left corner of the net.
“All I’m thinking is I’ve got to put this in the back of the net,” he said, describing his thoughts on the shot. “I’ve been taking those kinds of shots all year long.”
It was the first shot on goal of the game for either team, and was the first of many chances the Wolves created all throughout the first half, though none resulted in a second goal in the half.
Though halftime came with Chandler holding a 1-0 lead, coach Sasha Hunter told his team in the huddle to stay aggressive, knowing full-well the quality of Mesa’s attackers, and that a single mistake could lead to an equalizing goal.
“A 1-0 lead is not a lead, it’s still a tie in our picture, so we had to capitalize and get another one to really make us feel a little more comfortable,” he said.
It was Mesa, though, that seemed to be the aggressor to start play in the second half. The Jackrabbits pushed midfielders higher up the field, and were more patient with the ball.
Nonetheless, Chandler’s back line, along with goalkeeper Bryan Bautista, kept Mesa from creating too many quality chances on goal. And a 72nd minute goal essentially put the nail in the coffin.
A big difference between Wednesday’s game, and the contest eight days prior, was a playoff mindset, knowing only a win would keep the Wolves’ title hopes alive.
“It was just a lot of preparation. Basically, getting ready for the end of the season. We needed to settle down a little bit, the kids were maybe a little bit overconfident at that time, and just were ready to come out on the field,” Hunter said.
With the quarterfinals looming, Hunter said one of his team’s biggest needs is finishing chances. He said he was a bit disappointed in his attackers’ ability to score on Chandler’s many opportunities, and that it must change to fare well in the next round.
“We’ve got to put the ball in the back of the net. When we’re that close, it’s more about accuracy than power,” he said.
The competition will only prove tougher in each round of the tournament, but midfielder Gabe Waters said that if his team plays the high-quality soccer he believes it can, the remaining teams in 6A could find tough to give Chandler its first loss of the season.
“It’s amazing, we were working as a team, and that’s how we’ve been getting through the season undefeated,” he said. “We possess, keep the ball and move it around, that’s how we play.”