CHARLOTTE – Myers Park soccer coach Bucky McCarley put it best following his team’s 4-1 loss to Green Hope in the NCHSAA 4A finals on Nov. 17.
“To me, soccer sometimes, and sports in general, you have to take advantage of your chances,” McCarley said on the field at N.C. State following the loss. “I felt like in the second half we created really, really good chances, but in this kind of game you have to take advantage of them.”
The Western Regional champion Mustangs had the first real good opening when senior Daniel Watts found himself alone in front of the goal in the 14th minute. Watts settled the ball off his chest and fired a shot, but Green Hope goalkeeper Matt Hayes made one of his four saves, this one in dramatic fashion, to keep the game scoreless.
But it wouldn’t stay that way for long.
Two minutes later, Falcon Daniel Cho attacked from the Mustang right side and slipped a ball past the diving arm of Myers Park goalkeeper Jacob Hall through to Dylan Enseling, who fired a shot into the unprotected goal.
Hall and two defenders nearest the play immediately signaled for a hand ball but to no avail.
Watts would add another couple of near misses in the 33rd minute. First, he got loose inside the box and fired a shot off the post that clanked away to teammate Charles Pringle who’s rebound effort sailed wide of the target.
The teams went into the locker room intermission with Green Hope controlling time of possession and mostly dictating pace of play, but just one goal clear of the Mustangs.
But Myers Park wouldn’t be comfortable for long.
Just two minutes removed from halftime, Sam Cooper made a jackknife move to get past two defenders and fire a rocket right-footer at Hall, who deflected the shot. But Hall’s deflected ball landed at the awaiting right foot of Sam Durand, who made it 2-0.
In the 51st minute, Durand would nearly ice it. After a quick pass up the middle, he settled with his right foot and sent a left-footed touch past a sprawled out Hall who had no shot at a save for the 3-0 advantage.
Watts would get the Mustangs on the board in the 62nd minute. Samuel Bass fired a lead down the left sideline that Watts ran up on, touched once and sent past Hayes, the goalkeeper.
Both Watts and Bass, who are senior forwards for the Mustangs, were recently named to the North Carolina Coaches’ Association’s public school Class 4A team. Watts led the team with 24 goals and added eight assists, while Bass paired a team-best 14 goals with 19 goals.
Just 11 minutes late, Sam Cooper chipped a cross off the post but got his own rebound and fired one in to make it 4-1, the game’s final outcome.
“In the second half, they did a fantastic job capitalizing so the score is tilted,” McCarley said. “But if we finish our chances in the first half we’re growing in confidence rather than giving up a goal and being down. So we needed to finish our chances in the first half. Typically we do and in the previous rounds we’ve done a good job of that. Just not this time around.”
McCarley was upset following the win, mostly just that the ball didn’t bounce his team’s way.
“These kids are fantastic,” he said. “You want it to turn differently and you want to say they deserve better, but (Green Hope) kids work hard, too. We’ll deal with it. We have a lot of faith in our program and our program means a great deal to us. We’ll hopefully come back and put it right.”
In reality, it was an oddity for the Mustangs to be playing in the title game for the seventh time in school history in the first place.
They had started the season great, going 18-0 before a three-day stretch Oct. 22-24 closed the regular season with a pair of losses first to Independence and then to Porter Ridge, with both coming on penalty kicks.
But Myers Park had bounced back in a hurry against a gauntlet of some of the state’s top programs.
They knocked West Forsyth (2-0), Independence (3-0), Hough (2-1) and long-time rival South Meck (2-1) just to make it to play Green Hope, the 2016 state champions who finished 23-2-1 this season.
“The beautiful thing about getting to the state final is that you get to spend a maximum number of days and you have a maximum of memories with them,” McCarley said. “If you fall short in some previous round there is always that extra week, that extra training session or that extra time you could have spent together. So the beautiful thing about getting to a state final is you get to spend every single one of those minutes with your boys.”
McCarley, who also guided the Mustang girls to the state finals last spring and won the 2008 boys title, isn’t into moral victories, but said he’s proud to get to be on the journey with his guys.
“The only message is to the kids now and that’s that I love them and that I’m proud of them,” he said. “I hope those kinds of things sink in as they get older and they can appreciate it, but it’s just helping these guys dealing with what they’re dealing with now.
“It’s tough, but we will figure it out.”