The Hart Indians boys’ soccer team needed its defenders to step up in Tuesday’s away game at Canyon High School, but not in a traditional manner.
The Indians (10-3-1, 6-0) took down the Cowboys (4-4-2, 2-2-2), 3-1, to remain undefeated in Foothill League play, with all three goals coming from defenders.
Messiah Antwi, playing left back for Hart, scored two goals, one from close range and one on a penalty kick, and Samahj Oyewo, a center back, connected with a header from a corner kick to round out the scoring for Hart. Diego Rodriguez picked up two assists for Hart.
Canyon’s Vincent Guerra scored via a penalty kick, the first goal that the Indians have allowed in league play this season.
“It feels great, man,” Antwi said. “It feels great to just know that we run this league, and we know we dominate every single team that we play.”
The Indians certainly dominated the game in the first half, but it took some time to get the first goal. They finally broke through with under 15 minutes to play in the half on a throw-in that bounced around the penalty box before Rodriguez hit a bicycle kick that only went a short distance, but right into the path of Antwi.
“Just being in the right place at the right time, I guess,” Antwi said.
Canyon goalkeeper Kyle Mora kept the score at 1-0 when he saved a penalty kick two minutes after Hart opened the scoring. Mora finished with multiple saves and was under pressure throughout the game.
“He gave up three goals but he made some good saves,” Canyon head coach Robert Benavidez said. “There could have been a couple of others and he saved, he held his ground, but that’s what I expect from him.”
Canyon entered the second half on the front foot and managed to do what no other Foothill League team has done through the first half of league play: score a goal against Hart. Guerra slotted home a penalty kick with about 25 minutes to play after the referee called a handball on Hart in the penalty box.
Benavidez was happy to see his team respond after nearly going down multiple goals.
“They came out, they wanted to set the tone, and we were able to withstand that,” Benavidez said. “And even after we got down 1-0, we kept battling. It wasn’t for the lack of effort; the effort was there. We just talked about having to play quicker, especially at halftime, because they’re pressing so hard.”
The rest of the game went in Hart’s favor as Oyewo made it 2-1 just two minutes later, followed by Antwi’s penalty kick to make it 3-1 with just under 16 minutes to play.
Rodriguez was at the heart of both goals, delivering the corner kick that Oyewo connected on and sending in the through ball for Andrew Zamora that led to Canyon giving up a penalty kick.
“He’s a crucial player,” Hart head coach Alex Bernal said. “He connects our defense to our attackers and he finds passes that we need that are lethal.”
The Indians were playing slick throughout the game, but especially after getting their third goal. Playing the ball out of the back, Antwi had the freedom to move out of his defensive role and become part of the attack, even using a nutmeg to create space on a couple of occasions.
“That’s the system we play,” Antwi said. “Our coach, he tells us to be confident wherever you’re at, show your abilities and just play with the ball and always have confidence on the ball.”
While not a sixth consecutive shutout in league that Hart was aiming for, the Indians still haven’t allowed a goal from open play and are outscoring opponents 18-1 in six league games. Bernal credited the team’s defensive effort from back to front for that.
“We preach to the boys to stay patient,” Bernal said. “Even when things aren’t going our way, continue playing our style of soccer. Eventually, the goal came, and I think a big reason is the intensity they displayed defensively. It’s what we asked for. I told them the defense in this game was going to win the game, and from the first whistle to the very last, they worked for each other, they fought for each other.”
Canyon is set to travel to Saugus on Thursday to take on the Centurions (2-4-3, 2-2-2) at 3:15 p.m.
Hart is scheduled to return home on Thursday to take on the Valencia Vikings (4-4-2, 3-1-2) at 3:15 p.m.