T.C. boys soccer team prepares for playoff run

T.C. boys soccer team prepares for playoff run

By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)

At one stage in their final game of the regular season, things did not look good for the T.C. Williams boys soccer team, playing away against rivals West Potomac High School.

The Wolverines took the lead with 16 minutes left in the first half on a goal from midfielder Bright Somuah, who was played in behind the Titans defense by Nelson Flores. Then, midway through the second half things got worse for the visitors as senior defender Emir Crnovic was adjudged to have brought down a West Potomac attacker as the last man and was shown a straight red card.

The ejection means Crnovic will be suspended for the Titans’ first game in the Patriot Conference tournament, and, with just over 20 minutes left in the match at Jeffrey C. Dietze Stadium, things could have gotten even worse for the visitors as a strong West Potomac offense was bursting with confidence on senior night.

But Crnovic’s ejection and their one-goal deficit actually served as a motivator for T.C., who battled back to a 1-1 tie thanks to Ramsey Benzina’s header at the near post from a long throw by defender Zachary Eisenhour caused havoc in the Wolverines penalty area.

The away side were spurred on by the red card and the scoreline, and had much of the momentum, although they were unable to find a winning goal even in the two five-minute periods of overtime played at the end of regulation.

“It was definitely slow at first,” Benzina told reporters after the game. “Once we went a man down, we knew we had to pick it up and we saw a little spark. We need that spark every game, that’s the one we’ve been missing, that intensity and that passion. It’s showing in this game and it’s going to keep on showing, so I’m proud of that.”

The result against the 4-5-4 Wolverines means that the Titans finish the 2015 regular season with a 10-2-2 record, with the defending Virginia 6A state champions tasting defeat at home to Lake Braddock and away to W.T. Woodson, both by just one goal. At the time of writing, they will likely face either South County or West Springfield in the first round of the conference tournament.

For most of the game, the two teams were very evenly matched and managed to combine a potent offense with a strong defense. With Somuah pulling the strings for West Potomac in the heart of the midfield, the hosts had several good chances, but the Titans also enjoyed a good amount of possession and were able to create opportunities of their own.

Unfortunately for the visitors, they struggled to find the finishing touch, with Sebastian Hendi, Benjamin Velis and Benzina all having good chances but failing to find the target. That missing finish for both sides meant that the game quickly became stretched, with the two teams also not shying away from meaty tackles in midfield.

“I thought we were creating opportunities, we just weren’t putting them away,” T.C. head coach Marty Nickley said after the game. “I think West Potomac did a great job of really taking over that match and coming at us and taking that lead, it was awesome. I think it was a tribute to our boys as well that they were able to fight through that and get that tie at the end.”

The Titans players believe the losses that came after an unbeaten run of almost a year, coupled with their result at West Potomac, will serve as learning experiences ahead of what they hope will be a deep playoff run and a chance to defend last year’s state crown, the first in program history.

“I think this was a turning point, the last part of that second half was a turning point in our season for the better, for sure,” Benzina said. “Both of those losses, we played well in those games, but we learned from that and put it beside us and we’re hoping not to lose another game and fight to regain what’s ours.”

“These games are definitely incentives and they help us build,” added Hendi. “We’re going to practice tomorrow and look at what we did wrong and we’re going to work on that, so Friday when we come out we’re going to show that these games only make us stronger.”

T.C. believes their comeback and battling spirit will serve them well, especially as they managed to defy the odds at West Potomac and earn a hard-fought draw.

“A lot of people might think a tie would slow us down, but I’m coming home thinking about this as a win,” said Hendi. “Even though we should have won, coming down with a red card fired us up. Coming into Districts we’re coming in hot, and we’re going to show people that we’re here to win. We’re T.C. and we don’t lose. When playoffs come, we win.”