By Matthew Snyder
University High School junior midfielder Diego Lopes couldn’t get out of class in time for a 4 p.m. kickoff against Drew on Monday.
Normally a starter, Lopes arrived toward the end of warm-ups and began the game as a substitute.
From his sideline seat at the Crocker Amazon Soccer Fields, Lopes watched University hit the post twice and fire several more terrific close-range opportunities either wide or over goal through the first 25 minutes.
Lopes changed that in a big way, scoring the first goal in a nervy 2-0 non-league victory that was not sealed until freshman striker Freddy Yao punched in another close-range chance seconds before the final whistle.
The Red Devils (6-4-2) dominated Drew (5-4) throughout, but the inability to finish off the glut of chances nearly cost them.
In the 28th minute, University senior captain Michael Lauricella fired in a low free kick from 25 yards out that caromed off a Drew defender and into the path of Lopes, who calmly dispatched his shot past Drew goalkeeper Alexander Williams for the first goal of the game.
“[Lauricella and Lopes] are both first-team players,” said University head coach Deejae Johnson. “When they’re both on the field and in those kinds of situations, we know we’re better.”
The game marked Lauricella’s second appearance in 12 games this season. He suffered a hamstring tear nine months ago and has slowly worked himself back into shape. He played about 45 minutes against Drew.
“I wish I could play more,” Lauricella said. “[The hamstring] is still tight, but it’s starting to feel a little better.”
When he was on the field, Lauricella, an excellent dribbler, joined Lopes and junior Wyatt Kim in helping University control the game.
Kim, whom Johnson said has been University’s best ball-winner all season, began the game at center back, where he tracked Drew senior forward Richard Leon for most of the first half. Kim stymied the talented attacker, who only managed a speculative long-range, left-footed effort that sailed over the crossbar.
Kim moved to a central defensive midfield position at the end of the first period and stayed in that role for the rest of the game.
“We just wanted to let [Kim] loose,” Johnson said. “He did a good job of putting his stamp on the game from that position.”
Drew remained compact for most of the 80 minutes of game time and looked to feed Leon at every possible opportunity. The striker found it difficult to create many chances, but he nearly tied the game up in the final moments.
Drew junior midfielder Zachary Bauke played a perfectly-weighted pass into Leon’s path, and the forward unleashed a dangerous diagonal shot that skipped just wide of goal.
“[University has] an immense amount of talent, and we just fought to the very end,” said Drew head coach Daniel Philpot. “The game could have gone either way. We had a chance to put one away there late. If we get that goal, it’s 1-1 and we probably would have been able to hold, since we would have been able to drop our numbers back in. Sometimes you finish your chances, sometimes you don’t, and it’s just a matter of how things go.”
University sealed the game in the final moments, when Josiah Corbus’s scuffed long-range effort spun into the path of Yao, who then scored from six yards out.
Yao was one of two freshmen to start the game for the Red Devils, who fielded six underclassmen in their starting 11.
“We’ve basically had three freshmen start every game this season,” Johnson said. “We’re a small school, so we basically have to have kids from every class. If a kid is ready to play, then we put him on the field, and we’re looking for him to make an impact.”