PORT CHESTER —Mere minutes before he scored the equalizer in Port Chester’s season-opener against White Plains on Monday, Steven Hernandez had a nearly identical look at the goal.
His rocket free kick in the 63rd minute was stopped on a brilliant leaping save from Tigers’ keeper Alejandro Rodas (pictured making save below), so when he got another free kick chance in the 66th minute, the sophomore striker changed up his strategy.
“The goalie, give it to him, he made a good save,” Hernandez said. “The second time I wanted to keep it lower. Since the first time I hit it went up high, I knew he was looking up in the air.”
Hernandez’s second attempt deflected off of a defender and into the White Plains’ goal to tie the game. About five minutes later, he found a streaking Steven Carias (pictured above), who buried a shot to the far post to give the Rams a statement 2-1 win.
“Stevie had the ball and he put me in,” Carias said. “I one-timed it with my left, picked a corner and scored it.”
Although it was the first game of the season for each team, the match had a little extra juice to it because they are now a part of the same class. After reaching the Class A state final last season, Port Chester has been bumped up to Class AA, where the Tigers have been a force for years.
“It made me worried, and some of the things that I was worried about kind of bit us a little bit,” Port Chester coach John Cafaldo said. “We have a lot of work to do, but it’s a good feeler. Teams like that, you’re going to see them in the long run. And if we’re going to play in AA, those are the teams that we have to beat.”
Cafaldo’s concerns were how his team would match up against some of the bigger and more physical teams in Class AA, and White Plains made those fears come to fruition early. The Tigers controlled possession in the midfield in the first half and took a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute when Osvaldo Almiron buried a penalty kick.
“We definitely didn’t play our game in the first half,” Carias said. “We were playing their game, but in the second half we did our thing.”
Frustrated with the way that the game was playing out, the Rams accumulated four yellow cards, including two for Alfredo Zavala, which forced them to play one man down for the final 20 minutes.
Ironically, Port Chester played its best soccer from that point forward.
“Not that it opened things up for them, but I think it inspired them a little bit more,” White Plains coach Marcel Galligani said. “Being up a man, we need to do a better job of controlling the tempo of the match at that point.”
Here are few more of my thoughts from the game:
• For a period of time, it looked like Port Chester was losing its cool and letting the game slip away. But once the Rams had to play with 10 men, they seemed to get refocused. When they play cohesively, it’s a beautiful thing to watch. “That was what I told the guys at the half,” Cafaldo said. “We were one-sided and very predictable, so we kind of had to switch it up and use the wings a little bit more.”
• By predictable, Cafaldo means trying to do too much through Hernandez (pictured to the right). He’s super-talented and fun to watch, and he nearly put PC up in the first few minutes on a great look that sailed just high. White Plains man-marked him throughout, but Hernandez broke through in the final 20 minutes. “He’s a skillful player,” Galligani said. “He’s a very good player, and he’s the type of player that you can’t dive in on. He’s got speed, and you have to try to do the best that you can at keeping him in front of you.”
• Carias’ game-winner was set up perfectly by Hernandez, who has shown that he’s willing to pass it off and trust his teammates. Carias did his part, burying a nice shot across the face of the keeper. “Like we’ve said, he’s a great player and we need to connect with him,” Carias said of Hernandez. “He’s not a selfish player. He knows how to play with each and every one of us. Like that he pass he sent to me, we’re going to look for those more this season.”
• One thing that stood out about this game was the physical play. At first, the Rams weren’t handling it well, which led to the early deficit and collection of yellow cards. But they certainly seemed to adjust as the game wore on, and it’s something that they’ll need to get used to. “A lot of teams from AA are going to be as physical as them – or even more,” Hernandez said.
• Discipline was a problem for the Rams at times last season before they went on their run, and it seems like something that may need to be addressed again this year. They can’t afford to keep picking up cards at this rate. “The few guys that I was looking to step up after the card stepped up,” Cafaldo said. “Unfortunately, we have a lot to learn in that area, because some of these guys just don’t think. That’s what I’ve been preaching to them, but the guys who had to respond and needed to step up did.”
• Galligani was upset by some defensive lapses from his team late in the match, but he tried not too make too much of one game. White Plains did some positive things, and there is still a whole lot of soccer to be played. “It really doesn’t mean much,” he said. “It’s the first match of the season. We’ve got 15 matches left, and the only good thing that you can take away for this is that, at the end of the day, yes it’s our first match, but it’s not the last. We continue playing. We have some things that we have to improve on, and we’ll work those things out, but I was pleased with the way that we played.”
MORE RESULTS FROM MONDAY
With three minutes to go in overtime, Carmel junior Sebastian Lopez beat one defender and scored from 20 yards out to give the Rams a 3-2 win in overtime Monday over host North Salem.
“Last year in the sections, Sebastian really matured as a player,” Rams coach Mike Gizzo said. “He’s really a phenomenal soccer player. His ball control, his vision are all incredible. He was able to see the game and make the best of a lot of able situations. They (the Tigers defense) had four guys marking him almost the entire second half. And he was smart enough to find the space and exploit the space when they gave it to him.”
The Rams were down 2-0 at halftime.
“I just challenged the guys,” Gizzo said. “North Salem was much more physical. They won just about every ball in the first half. I challenged the guys to get more aggressive and to move the ball a little bit faster. We ended up getting two goals in the second half.”
Goals by Vasiliy Shevelchinsky and Shane Devine were assisted by Lopez. Devine’s goal was scored with 10 minutes left in regulation to send the game into overtime.
Best of the rest: Tappan Zee’s Alex Flores scored off of an assist from Marco Batista in the 56th minute with the eventual game-winning goal over host Ramapo. … Keio’s Shunya Icumi scored twice in a 4-2 win at home over two-time defending Class B champ Blind Brook… Pearl River got goals from Brian Chiarello and Chris Seiss in a 2-0 win at home against Spring Valley. For Seiss, it was his first varsity goal… Fox Lane’s Isaac Sanabria scored twice in a 4-1 win at home over Hamilton… Horace Greeley’s Drew Goldberg had a goal and an assist in a 4-2 win at New Rochelle… Dobbs Ferry’s Lorenzo Girotto had four goals and an assist in a 7-1 win at home over Saunders… Irvington’s Ben Ovetsky and Matt Friedlander each scored in a 2-1 win at Solomon Schechter… Woodlands’ Prince Kermue had four assists in a 5-1 win over Lincoln at Tibbets Brook Park… Scarsdale’s Niels Mariager scored twice in a 5-2 win at home over Edgemont… Rye Neck’s Cameron Shaw had two goals and an assist in a 4-1 win at home over Pleasantville… Tuckahoe’s MiMoon Al Zandani had two goals and an assist in a 4-2 win at home over Gorton… Rye’s Anthony Castro scored twice in a 3-2 win at home over Harrison… Nyack won at home against a North Rockland team coming off of an appearance in the Class AA section title game by a score of 3-1… Mamaroneck beat Ossining 2-0… Suffern beat Albertus Magnus 2-0.
Photos by Tania Savayan/The Journal News