January 29, 2013 10:10:43 AM
STARKVILLE -- Zach Slaughter had a perfect view of the assault.
Save for two goals that penetrated the bunker, Slaughter and the Starkville Academy boys soccer team didn't have much offensive success Monday in a 2-0 victory against Heritage Academy at the Starkville Sportsplex.
It didn't matter that the Volunteers (10-2-1) held a 23-4 edge in shots because many of the scoring attempts weren't on frame. Goalkeeper Matt Sykes (nine saves) also did his best to frustrate Starkville Academy on an afternoon in which Heritage Academy (3-4-1) had seven and eight field players in the Volunteers' attacking third for most of the match.
For Slaughter, a sweeper, it was painful to watch his teammates try to break down the Patriots and work free for quality scoring opportunities.
"We just played bad," Slaughter said. "We come off a week of playing (Jackson) Prep and PCS (Presbyterian Christian) and we come into a game we think is easy and we just kind of got overconfident a little bit. We didn't perform well at all, including myself."
After a loss last week to Jackson Prep, Slaughter has an idea what it is like to be under constant pressure. Starkville Academy put Heritage Academy in that position Monday by possessing the ball nearly the entire match. The only trouble was Starkville Academy often tried to maneuver through the middle of the field, which usually was the most congested area. With the Patriots trying to limit scoring chances following a 4-0 loss to the Volunteers in the first meeting this season, the Volunteers weren't able to take the ball wide to stretch the defense or to possess long enough and use the width of the field to force the defense to chase.
"That comes with playing bad," Slaughter said. "We didn't recognize we needed to play it outside and cross it in. We tried to go right up the middle, and that is just a part of playing bad. We didn't recognize it. We recognize it after the game but they weren't a real offensive threat, but we weren't either today."
Jake Goodwin took a pass from Drew Pellum and had time and space to drill a shot into the lower left corner to make it 1-0 in the opening minute. Instead of opening the floodgates, the goal served more as a tease, as the Volunteers missed high, wide, and every way in the next 70-plus minutes. Pellum provided insurance later in the half after stealing a pass and breaking in on Sykes all alone.
The goals provided little consolation for Starkville Academy coach Robert Gardner, who talked to the players for more than 10 minutes following the match. With games against Hillcrest (Thursday), Parklane (Friday), and Copiah (Saturday) later this week, Gardner knows the Volunteers will have to be sharper if they want to stay on track for a run into the playoffs.
"It wasn't our best performance, by any means," Gardner said. "We did find it difficult to break down. We have faced teams that don't try to attack before, and I think we have done quite well with it. As a team, the run of play was just calling out for us to possess the ball deeper and draw them out. If it took three or four minutes of possession in our defensive half to draw them out of it and then counter, then that's what was needed. In that sense, I don't think we were smart enough today. We have identified that in the past, and the players are the ones that identified it because we have talked about it.
"It was frustrating. We didn't do that as a team, but that is just the way it happens sometimes."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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