CENTRALIA — Team United took a trip to the Hub City on Thursday and rolled back home to South Lewis County with a 2-1 win over their 2A rivals from Centralia in a non-league boys soccer affair.
Tiger Stadium may be bigger than their home field and it certainly has artificial turf where Ted Hippi Stadium boasts mud, but the surroundings were far from unfamiliar for the Toledo-Winlock boys. In fact, after a summer of training and playing pickup games with the Tigers just to stay in shape it’s safe to say that team United felt like they were playing in their home away from home in their second match of the season.
Or, if not their own home, at least their friend’s house where everything turns into a good natured competition, from fighting over the last piece of pizza to who gets to handle the aux cord.
“We have been rivals forever so these are the ones I love to play. It could have gone either way for sure,” United coach Corny Sanchez said. “They are pretty good friends with the guys on the other side. It’s a really good competition, you know, friends among friends, but when they get in there it’s about winning.”
And win they did with the help of Mathew Ethridge’s second straight brace, along with some inspired defense down the stretch.
Ethridge got United on the board first in the 10th minute following a corner kick. After a bit of pandemonium in the box it was the senior who seized control of the ball long enough to redirect it into the Tigers’ net.
“That got us a good strat but they were on top of us for the first 20 minutes, we couldn’t clear the ball,” Sanchez said.
The lead didn’t last long for the guests, though, as six minutes later Centralia’s Abdelaziz Simba Osman returned the favor with a goal of his own.
“Throughout much of the first half, we kept putting pressure on but couldn’t convert on some critical moments in front of goal,” Centralia coach Henry Gallanger said. “In the second half, Toledo-Winlock did an excellent job locking things down and denying us chances.”
The 1-1 tie remained through halftime, and then some as both defenses took control and kept the ball contained to the middle of the field for the majority of the action. When the ball did leak out it was usually a lob over the top to United forward Nolan Swofford who would proceed to bulldoze his way through defenders and corner flags alike, eventually drawing a yellow card in the final minutes of the contest for his bruising (and laughing) style of play.
In the 63rd minute that push paid off when Swofford managed to get position on his defender and earned a corner kick. This time the ball found Ethridge more directly, ricocheting off of his chest and into the net to put United up for good.
“We started settling down, we made a couple of stops and they stepped up,” Sanchez said.
A frantic Centralia attack during the final five minutes forced United to step up a few more times in order to secure the win, with freshman keeper Carter Nash notching a pair of sliding saves that resulted in collisions in the box.
“I was pretty nervous there at the end,” Sanchez said.
After all the excitement Nash had a hard time figuring out which save in particular he thought was his best, before settling on a one-on-one breakaway that saw him charge to the top of the box in time to take the ball off the foot of a charging Tiger.
“Probably when I got hurt. Man, my ankle slid under my leg and I thought I was done,” Nash said. “It was hurting a little bit but in the end I couldn’t go off the field because we don’t have another goalkeeper. I had to put the team first before myself…It feels good to win.”
Nash credited his trainers, including former Toledo coach and current Centralia assistant Noel Vasquez, for helping to put him in a position to play hero down the end.
“Shootout to this team, man. These guys are really good workers. They work hard at practice, they are phenomenal players and I’m glad to be with them,” Nash said. “I trust my defenders more than anything.”
Those defenders included Neal Patching, Xavier Sancho and Ethan Carver, along with Swofford who several times abandoned his forward station in order to run roughshod through the Tigers’ front line.
Sanchez was similarly impressed with the play of his freshman keeper.
“He made a couple of nice saves a couple of days ago against Tenino, too. And he only started playing goalkeeper this last summer. He’d never played it before,” Sanchez said. “We started training and this is the result.”
Toledo-Winlock (2-0) will be back at it on Monday at South Bend.
Centralia (0-2) continues non-league play when it hosts Class 1A Tenino on Saturday.
“We are a much-improved side on the field, and our frontline attack is young and gaining experience with every outing,” Gallanger said. “I’m excited to see what they look like as the season progresses. Now to focus on dialing in our sights a bit and find the back of the net.”