By Steve Hunt, special contributor to USYouthSoccer.org
After building a 2-0 lead by halftime, it looked like the Dallas Texans 92 Red would cruise against Slammers FC in the Under-16 Boys division of the U.S. Youth Soccer National League at the Ross Stewart Soccer Complex in suburban Dallas.
The funny thing is that despite not being able to create a great deal of scoring chances, Slammers showed a lot of grit, cutting the Texans' lead in half thanks to a 43rd-minute goal by Sergio Antonelli. But in the end, it wasn't enough in the 2-1 win that clinched Texans the title in the U-16 boys division.
From the opening whistle, Texans showed they were the superior team as they dominated possession. Judging from their crisp passing and impeccable decision making with the ball, it was only a matter of time before they scored.
Actually, it only took them nine minutes. That was when Chris Sendejas received a throw-in from Blake Wise on the near sideline. Sendejas then used his blistering speed to outrun a Slammers defender. As he was nearing the opposing goal, he spotted Conor Doyle steaming into the box and found him with a great cross. Doyle finished this golden opportunity in perfect fashion to make it 1-0.
Their second goal came in the 22nd minute. The play started when the Texans' Gino DePaoli took on a Slammers player on the left side of the pitch. He then sent a cross toward the opposing net when a Slammers player knocked it into the back of the net for an own goal.
Even though they trailed by two goals at the break, Slammers came out of halftime playing inspired soccer, controlling possession for much of the first 15 minutes of the second frame. That solid play culminated in the 43rd minute, when an unexpected goal from Antontelli made it 2-1.
That score served as a wake-up call for the Texans.
"We weren't happy," Doyle said. "After that went in, you could tell that we weren't happy with it. That was their first shot on goal of the game and their first shot period. It's bad that it takes things like that to wake us up. But when things like that do happen, they do wake us up. That's a good thing about us."
Sendejas agreed. "After they scored the goal, they did put a lot of pressure on it and it did worry us a little bit," he said. "Anything could have happened after that because they had the momentum."
In the 52nd minute, Texans nearly struck again. After Christian Valadez took a free kick on the right side from about 35 yards out, Brett Helm got on the receiving end of that one inside the six-yard box but his header went high.
And six minutes later, Texans' forward Kingsley Brice sped up the right flank and hit Valadez perfectly in stride on the opposite side of the field. Valadez's shot missed the Slammers goal by mere inches, going wide right.
"If we had put them (those chances) away, the game's over and is 4-0," Doyle said. "We didn't put them away. They put one in the back of the net and it was a fight until the end."
Both Doyle and Sendejas were pleased with how well their team did on possession for much of the evening.
"That's how we like to play, keep it on the floor, keep possession and pass, pass, pass," Doyle said. "We were able to do that tonight. We had that little lull early in the second half but we calmed down, got it back on the ground and created chances. We just couldn't put them away."
Sendejas added: "We dominated pretty much the first half," he said. "In the second half, we came out slow but picked it up a little bit at the end. We just tried to hold onto the lead and not let the win slip away."
But that doesn't mean that either player doesn't see room for improvement before they play again on Sunday against the Chicago Wind Nationals at 12 PM on Field No. 2.
"We need to not relax so much after halftime or after we have the game won," Sendejas said. "We need to not do that so much on Sunday."
Doyle concurred. "We just need to be able to do it for the full 80 minutes," he said.
As for Slammers FC, their next game is on Saturday at 4:00 PM when they will face Manhattan Phoenix on Field No. 3.