It was easy to find field No. 9 at the Santa Ana Soccer Complex in Bernalillo on Wednesday (Nov. 7) thanks to the tall Tiger flags on the sideline. Though Taos lost 1-0 to the Santa Teresa Warriors in the quarterfinal game of the state tournament, the tension of the scoreless match held until the final minutes.
Rather than resign themselves to overtime, both teams intensified their play. Santa Teresa seized control, taking three shots on goal in under 30 seconds. Unwilling to surrender the match, the Tigers responded by pressing up the field, also hoping to put one in the net before the end of regulation game time. Playing so far up the field, defenders are better able to assist offensive play-making. However, doing so leaves the territory behind them vulnerable.
Usually, Taos's big, fast, strong defenders can catch and stop anyone who sneaks behind them.
Not on Wednesday. Santa Teresa forward Francisco Zubia got a step behind the defensive line and was simply uncatchable. He seemed to know it. Patiently, he waited, keeping the ball close until he was comfortably within range of the goal. Keeper Milo Collignon had to come out a step to reduce the available net, and Zubia placed the ball perfectly up and left, beyond the goalie's reach.
"Only two players this season have been able to get past our midbacks," coach Michael Hensley said after the game.
The Tigers weren't finished. They attacked until the final seconds during which Patrick Penso tangled with the Santa Teresa goalie for what turned out to be Taos's best -- and last -- shot of the game.
Santa Teresa coach Luís Villalobos was impressed by "what Taos did defensively" and remarked that the team played "a little grittier" than expected.
Villalobos' admiration of the Tiger defense was well-earned. Though Taos exhibited tight, controlled play, largely keeping the ball on the ground and rotating smoothly between positions on the field with obvious awareness of their teammates's whereabouts, Santa Teresa managed to convert even brief possessions into scoring attempts, keeping the defense on it's toes.
Always able to find one another, the Warriors took more than twice as many shots as Taos.
The game was closer than many might have expected. After the Tigers had graciously thanked their fans, Hensley shared that he was "very proud of them." Over half the young Taos team consists of freshman and sophomores who have been playing together for seven years. Given that their leading scorer is 8th-grader Alex Waggoner, the Taos team has a lot to look forward to beyond this strong 15-3-1 season.
According to Hensley, the boys will stay in shape in the off-season in a variety of ways. Some will play in a travel club, some will do other sports, and many will participate in Soccer After Dark, an indoor league and mentorship program for players of all ages.
Soccer After Dark runs from November through April in the Guadalupe Gym and is free for all participants in the Taos Youth Soccer League and students of Taos High School. For more information, contact coach Michael Hensley at (575) 770-6038.