Boys soccer: 3 Takeaways from Somerset Canyons-American Heritage 2-2 draw

·5 min read
American Heritage's wall reacts as the ball ricochets during a set-piece free kick in Heritage's half of play. The Stallions played Somerset Canyons to a 2-2 draw in Wednesday's match.
American Heritage's wall reacts as the ball ricochets during a set-piece free kick in Heritage's half of play. The Stallions played Somerset Canyons to a 2-2 draw in Wednesday's match.

BOYNTON BEACH — Somerset Canyons’ boys soccer team played American Heritage to a tightly contested 2-2 draw on Wednesday night, adding another chapter to what has become one of Palm Beach County’s most thrilling rivalries.

Between the recent rise of hosting Somerset and the visitors’ long-established tenure as a top program, it might have seemed an easy task to separate David from Goliath on the pitch.

Not so.

After three straight years of close playoff losses to the mighty Stallions (2-3-6), it was the Cougars (9-3-1) who played on the front foot, pressuring Heritage with excellent possession and a myriad of quality chances.

The Cougars leapt out to a 2-0 lead, capped by a penalty kick rifled from the spot by team captain Charles Verzaal.

But even in the face of a deficit, Heritage’s counterattack proved deadly. Anthony Vargas and Sean Raines found the back of the net in the second half, closing out the draw in dramatic fashion.

Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s action-packed contest:

Somerset’s finesse on full display

Without question, the first half of Wednesday’s match belonged to the Cougars. Somerset’s squad controlled the pace of the first 40 minutes, stringing together long, clean possessions that kept the ball almost perpetually in its attacking half.

“Being up 2-0, I think we dominated the game from the beginning,” Somerset head coach Eric De Sousa said. “That's kind of clear. Obviously, they're a talented group, and they have weapons, but I think as far as a team against a team, we dominated them.”

The continuous pressure resulted in several fouls by Heritage players, setting up a number of free kicks – and at the end of the first half, that paid dividends for the Cougars.

In the final minute before the halftime whistle was blown, Isaac Elorrieta launched a free kick toward goal, beating Heritage’s keeper for the game’s first score.

That momentum continued in the second half with Verzaal’s penalty, which followed a hard slide-tackle onto a Cougars midfielder in the box.

“I looked at the goalie right in his face,” Verzaal said. “He said, ‘I know where you're going, I know where you're going,' and I said, 'okay, good for you.' I looked right into his eyes and I knew where I was going to hit it, and I just hit the ball as true as I could.”

No game out of reach for talented Heritage squad

Staring down a 2-0 deficit with less than 30 minutes to play, many teams would have folded.

But as Somerset has learned over the years, Heritage is not one such team.

“I've studied them, and I've seen that if you fall asleep for one second, they will punish you,” De Sousa said.

Whereas Somerset built on its pressure, taking advantage of mistakes made by the Stallions in the first half, it was the Stallions’ vicious counterattack that catapulted them back into contention.

Following Verzaal’s penalty kick, it took Vargas less than two minutes to halve the deficit, as the talented senior drove downfield, beat his defender, and slotted the ball past Somerset’s keeper.

“They’re a very strong team, but just like any high-school team, there’s definitely weaknesses,” Heritage head coach Victor Sanchez said. “I wanted to try to capitalize on those areas. In the game of soccer, it’s about who makes the most mistakes and who capitalizes on those mistakes. They capitalized on our mistakes, and we were fortunate to capitalize on their mistakes as well.”

Not long afterwards, Sean Raines got on the end of a clean through-ball, took advantage of a bad touch by a Somerset defender, and put it away in the bottom corner.

“We’ve played them three times [in my career] and we've never lost to them,” Raines said. “I wasn't trying to lose to them in my senior year.”

Somerset, Heritage enjoy blossoming rivalry

Both teams enjoyed positives from the match. While Somerset started off hot, the second half saw Heritage establish momentum – in the end, it took an impressive save from Cougars goaltender Ethan Schaney just to preserve the tie.

“To be down 2-0, the boys showed a lot of character and resiliency to fight back,” Sanchez said. “I was really proud of them to be able to work through that deficit, that hole that we’d dug.”

The back-and-forth affair served as a high-intensity reminder of the rivalry that has developed in the last three years, a time period that has seen the two soccer juggernauts face off in the playoffs each season.

Though Somerset has lost each year, the matches have been progressively closer, and De Sousa believes that a changing of the guard is at hand.

“I do. I feel confident to say 'I do,' and I think they do as well, so I look forward to the next one,” the Somerset coach said.

Heritage, which has grown accustomed to having a target on its back, welcomes the rivalry’s next chapter.

Even stepping in as a new coach for the storied program, Sanchez knows the importance of the brief history these two programs have, both on and off the pitch.

“These kids are right next to each other,” he said. “Many of them know each other. That’s the beauty, is these types of rivalries. I look forward to all competition, all rivalries. Yeah, American Heritage might be a nice brand name, but we have to earn it every day. So we look forward to these types of rivalries.”

Somerset has two regular season games remaining, while Wednesday’s match was Heritage’s regular season finale.

If this year’s postseason is a repeat of the last three, it may not be too long before these two teams face off against each other once more.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Somerset Canyons Cougars, American Heritage Stallions boys soccer match

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