Injuries plague Pack in loss to Conley

Published 12:31 pm Wednesday, August 27, 2014

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS LIMITATIONS: Senior midfielder Lupe Barrera tries to dribble around two Conley defenders in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss.

LIMITATIONS: Senior midfielder Lupe Barrera tries to dribble around two Conley defenders in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss.

Bitten by the injury bug, head coach Jim Kozuch scrambled to try to piece together a workable lineup prior to Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to D.H. Conley.

Minutes before the start of the match, Washington’s senior defenseman William Page was stricken with a nasty stomach ailment and ruled himself out, while an illness also sidelined junior midfielder Dylan Singleton. Two key pieces to Kozuch’s newly implemented 4-5-1 scheme, out.

Recovering from injuries acquired in the season opener against a physical First Flight team were junior goalie William Tate and senior midfielder Lupe Barrera. Both were deemed fit to play, though it was clear the limited practice time affected their performances on the field.

Kozuch shuffled his deck and went with a 4-4-2 formation, one that kept a collection of juniors back on defense and the most physically fit players in the midfield.

Other then an early chance for Washington off a corner kick, the possession was split out of the gate, until a Conley striker managed to get behind the defense. Just seven minutes in, the forward found himself on the receiving end of a well-placed through ball, easily tapping it past Tate to put the Vikings up 1-0.

Then, with 28 minutes to go in the first half, the Conley defense collapsed on midfielder Jose Corona, who broke through and flicked a shot past the keeper. However, the goal was overturned on an apparent push in the back, draining the Pam Pack of all momentum. And on the counter, Conley quickly moved up the field and fired a perfect shot into the upper-90 for the second goal.

From that point on in the first half, forward Kyle Hodges continuously worked his way through the defense, hugged the sideline and created scoring opportunities. On two instances, Barrera laid a perfectly placed cross from just around midfield to the foot of Hodges. Both times the Conley keeper came through with the save.

With seven minutes to go in the half, the Vikings capitalized in transition. Following a Leo Brown shot and Conley save, a midfielder worked his way up the field and notched an unassisted goal, the third of the game.

Washington outshot Conley, 10-7, but was shutout through the first half.

“I told the guys at halftime, we don’t know who we are yet. We don’t have an identity,” Kozuch said. “Last year we were a team that could fight back and win from behind and I truly believe we still can be that team this year.”

Washington would get an opportunity to chip away at the lead, but not before a poor defensive turnover resulted in another goal for Conley five minutes into the second half.

Hodges and Barrera continued their barrage of shots and with 30 minutes to go, finally found an opportunity.

After a hard tackle in the box, the ref motioned to the line, awarding a penalty. Senior Sergio Higuera lined up to take the kick and when the referee blew his whistle, the ball caromed off the football upright.

Eventually, junior midfielder Miguel Hernandez broke through for his team and slid a shot past the goalie, but two minutes later, Conley took advantage of another defensive lapse and tapped in an easy goal to put the Vikings up 5-1.

A late surge by Washington resulted in two goals from Hodges. Utilizing his above-average arm strength, the Pam Pack striker scored his first on a throw-in, which tipped off the goalie and into the back to the net. Hodges was credited with the goal. And with three minutes left, Hodges received a pass from Eric Ruiz, got behind the goalie and scored easily. The three goals were not enough to compensate for the errors on defense.

“Take away two defensive lapses, a penalty shot that we missed and a goal that was taken away and we win, but we still didn’t play well,” Kozuch said. “Injuries were tough tonight, but you can’t make that excuse. I’m sure they had injuries too. You have to deal with what you have.”

The loss moves Washington to a 1-2 record. Coming off an impressive 18-2-2 finish last season, Kozuch believes his team is capable of keeping pace with the larger 3-A and 4-A schools.

“However big the school we’re playing, we’re totally excited to play them again,” he said. “Maybe we’ll be healthy, maybe we’ll not be. It’s a chess match, so maybe next time we’ll make the right moves.”