By Matthew Snyder
For most of Friday night’s Bay Counties League West boys soccer championship at Kimbell Playground, University High School senior goalkeeper Jack Wilson got the better of Marin Academy’s standout attacking midfielder Eloi Vasquez.
Vasquez tested Wilson with three shots spread out during a game that went to two overtimes. Each time, Wilson, who began the season as a forward before being shifted to goalkeeper, responded with a brilliant save.
But his fourth attempt proved to be the difference in the Wildcats’ 2-1 win.
The last of Wilson’s stops came in the second sudden-death overtime period, with the score still knotted at 1-1. Vasquez hit a powerful left-footed shot from a tight angle near the left end line, which Wilson swept away to his left.
Moments later, Vasquez resurfaced at the top-right corner of University’s penalty area. Following a Marin Academy corner kick that the Red Devils failed to clear properly, Vasquez smashed an unstoppable low drive across goal that whistled past Wilson into the low reaches of the net.
The brilliant strike sealed Marin Academy’s (17-1-2) fifth straight BCL West title. University was the last team to win it (in 2007) before the extended run of Marin Academy’s dominance.
“I’m disappointed for the boys. They worked hard,” said University head coach Deejae Johnson. “They didn’t give much and Marin Academy is a good team. We’ve got to stay focused the whole time. You can’t give them extra corner kicks and we gave them several. We didn’t step fast enough and [Vasquez] hit a bullet. It was a heck of a shot.”
For Johnson, Friday night’s game signaled yet another positive step taken by his young team.
Junior Sam Reyes, playing in a deeper central midfield role from his customary forward position, was just one of a number of Red Devils who put in superb performances. Reyes, midfielder Alex Warren and center back Wyatt Kim frequently broke up the marauding runs of Marin Academy’s dynamic midfielders.
Despite playing without injured senior midfielder and co-captain Michael Lauricella – one of the top attacking talents in the league, University dominated possession in the game’s first 20 minutes.
The Wildcats dealt with attrition issues of their own, with two regular starters out.
“I think we prepared to have a lot of confidence and we were fresh, so they were a little unsure at the beginning, since they were missing a couple of guys,” Johnson said. “So . . . we had a couple good chances, but we didn’t take care of them.”
Marin Academy broke a scoreless tie in the 39th minute, when the Red Devils failed to clear another corner kick. Junior midfielder Patch Johanson raced to the loose ball and smashed a right-footed half-volley that caromed off the crossbar, then the goalpost and finally down into goal.
Nine minutes into the second half, Kim scored on a 23-yard free kick just above the penalty circle. After twice asking for the required 10 yards between the ball and the defense, Kim coaxed a low curling drive to the right of the four-man Marin Academy wall and into the bottom-left corner of the net.
From that point on, as the Wildcats pressed for a game-winner, it was Wilson’s show.
“Jack’s been great,” Johnson said. “We feel good with him there. I thought he had great saves all game long – super brave. I’m really proud of Jack for stepping into the role and doing something he’s never done before, and being a team player, and my hat’s off to him.”
Wilson felt confident that if the game had gone to penalty kicks, University would have emerged as the victor.
“Since this is my last chance [at winning a league title], it’s just disappointing,” Wilson said. “It seems like it sort of just escaped away.”