Aberdeen used a dominate second half en route to a 3-0 victory over Elma on Monday at Stewart Field in Aberdeen.
With just one exhibition game the previous weekend under its belt, Aberdeen (1-0 overall) took the field for the first time in the 2023 season and started the game trading scoring chances with the Eagles (1-1).
With both teams opting to play a bit of long ball, the game turned into an attack-counterattack affair over in the opening half.
The Bobcats broke through with a goal when senior midfielder Hugo Garcia sent a pass toward fellow senior midfielder Colby Mendoza on the wing. Mendoza sent a high, angled shot over the head of Elma keeper Andy Salvatierra and into the top far corner of the net for a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute.
“Putting that goal in the back of the net let the team relax a little bit because we were playing a little sloppy in the beginning,” Mendoza said of the opening score. “Everybody was kind of scared I guess with first-game nerves, but once we scored that goal it calmed everybody’s nerves. Everybody got back into focus and it gave everybody confidence.”
Though Mendoza’s well-placed shot helped to settle in the Bobcats, it was Elma that responded with some offensive pressure. Over the subsequent seven minutes of play, the Eagles counterattack produced several scoring opportunities, their best coming in the 17th minute when a ball played into the front of the Bobcats net was ricocheted around before being cleared to the far wing.
Aberdeen found success down the wing late in the first half, but a dangerous would-be cross to the front of the Eagles net was intercepted by a leaping Salvatierra to keep the score 1-0 at the break.
While the first half may have been a back and forth spectacle, the second half belonged to the Bobcats.
With an emphasis on aggression without the ball and possession with it, Aberdeen played the majority of the second half in the Eagles defensive third of the field, peppering Salvatierra with shots and scoring chances.
The Cats broke through for a 2-0 lead when senior forward Giovanni Ambrogiani sent a high-arcing cross toward the far post. Bobcats sophomore forward Evan Cone got his head on the ball a split-second ahead of Salvatierra to double the Aberdeen lead in the 51st minute.
Later in the half, Cats senior midfielder Estevan Isidro fed a crossing pass to senior midfielder Gilberto Lopez, who gathered his own deflected attempt while inside the 18-yard box and slotted a hard, low shot just inside the post to ice the game at 3-0 in the 74th minute.
Aberdeen’s defense didn’t allow a shot on-goal in the second half to help keeper Antonio Granados to a clean-sheet shutout victory.
“Slow down, find the easy pass first and stop sending it (long downfield) over and over,” Aberdeen head coach Larry Fleming said of his team’s successful second-half strategy, citing the play of midfielders Edwin Quintana, Cone and Mendoza. “Our touch wasn’t great and it’s only our first real game, but once we settled down we marked a lot better, … and everybody else just possessed and communicated so much better and we had so many chances.”
“We kept sending the ball up too much and it kind of lost us the ball a lot,” Mendoza said. “We just played a little slower and that got us the two (second-half) goals. … Going out there you want to just score first and play really fast, but you need to have patience.”
Elma head coach Carson Seaberg said his team – which lost multiple starters and has a completely new defensive back line – struggled to recognize when it had opportunities to break into an attack in the second half.
While the outcome wasn’t what he had hoped for, Coach Seaberg said his team gained valuable experience playing against a talented, senior-heavy Aberdeen squad.
“The pressure (Aberdeen) had going forward made us feel like we needed to have numbers back. They were strong at it and we were defending 10 on six and probably didn’t need to be there. That’s probably due to a little bit of inexperience with this group,” he said. “I felt like even though the result wasn’t as good, we made some strides as far as becoming a better team tonight. In some ways, we played a better game than we did against Wahluke. … It’s a big step up when you get into the varsity game and a bigger step up when you play a good 2A school, so we have to be ready for that. But that’s why we picked this schedule.”
For the Bobcats, getting a convincing victory sans penalty cards and injuries was a welcome first step of the season.
“Good first non-league game,” Fleming said. “Exactly what we want.”
“This gives us confidence to just play more aggressive and stronger to get some more wins,” Mendoza added.
Aberdeen faces Hoquiam in a Myrtle Street Rivalry game scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday at Sea Breeze Oval in Hoquiam.
Elma is scheduled to play at King’s Way Christian at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
Elma 0 0 – 0
Aberdeen 1 2 – 3
First half – 1, Aberdeen, Colby Mendoza (H. Garcia), 11th minute.
Second half – 2, Aberdeen, Cone (Ambrogiani), 51st minute. 3, Aberdeen, Lopez, 74th minute.