This post was updated on Nov. 4.
It wasn’t an easy game by any means.
The Valley Vikings had the speed, the soccer IQ and the will to win when they came into Taos Eco Park on Saturday afternoon (Nov. 2) to face the Taos Tigers in the first round of the state soccer tournament.
But the Tigers, as they have done so brilliantly before this season, matched that will of their opponents – and in the process took home a hard-fought 2-1 victory over the Vikings.
Now, the Tigers (15-3-1) will face St. Pius X, the No. 3 seed, in the quarterfinals of the state tournament at the Bernalillo Soccer Complex on Wednesday morning (Nov. 6).
“We did everything that we had to do,” Charles Bayles, the Tigers’ captain, said after his team’s victory. “We have been working on this all year and it feels great to finally put it all together and get a big win.”
In the early going, Valley (6-11-2) had come out firing, controlling the ball and passing it with accuracy. The speed of Valley’s Atif Azimi had the Tigers befuddled on defense.
That fast start opened things up quickly for the Vikings, too. Just five minutes in, Valley’s Josh Baros found teammate Luis Gonzales for a goal to take the early 1-0 lead.
Taos head coach Michael Hensley said that his team played nervously early in the first half, but that they recouped and worked together to get the wheels turning after finding themselves down early on.
And they did. The Tigers had one of their first opportunities to score when Diego Salazar Behrens passed the ball between defenders to Alex Waggoner. But that attempt was thwarted.
But, a little while after and about 22 minutes into the first half, Waggoner found his opening when he scored straight on and in a highly congested area. The goal tied the game up at one goal apiece.
Waggoner would continue his onslaught of striking the ball towards the goal with plenty of help from Keane Roske, who on many occasions set up the shot on goal perfectly for Waggoner with his accurate passing.
Milo Collignon, on the other hand, handled his goalkeeping duties for Taos much better after letting one get by him early on. On more than one occasion, he blocked strong attempts from Valley. In the last five minutes of the half, Collignon blocked a penalty kick from Valley’s Cole McClaren.
In the second half, Taos came out confident, controlling the ball and making accurate passes – making it harder for the Vikings to do much offensively.
That frustrated the Vikings and, in that frustration, Taos found another opening. About 10 minutes in, Waggoner found the back of the net on a straight-on shot, who only had to get past one Valley defender. Roske had set up Waggoner perfectly, heading the ball from midfield towards the goal and giving Waggoner all the space in front of him to work with.
The goal made it 2-1 in favor of the Tigers – and they didn’t look back.
In the final minutes of the game, Taos had a few more shots on goal. And when Valley had control of the ball, the Tigers played perfect defense, suffocating the Vikings any time they seemed to find a hole.
The Tigers will be facing a solid squad in the Sartans, who put together an 11-5-2 record over the course of the regular season, and who went undefeated in Class 4A District 5 play.
“We have been preparing for a match like (St. Pius X) all season,” Bayles said. “This is what we have been working towards. They’re a good team, but there’s no reason we can’t win.”
With a win over St. Pius X on Wednesday, Taos can play either Hope Christian or Los Alamos in the semifinals depending on who wins between those two teams.