By JD McCarthy
For the Opelika Observer
After being able to play just two games in the first nine days of the season, the Smiths Station Boys soccer team is ready for a busy week that has them playing three games in a five-day stretch.
“The boys are excited; everybody wants to play,” said Head Coach Jeff Carrero. “They are used to playing. It’s time for us to step up and show what we have. You only get better by playing. The game is the test. You practice and practice, and the game is the exam.”
The Panthers are coming off of a 2-0 loss to St. Anne Pacelli that put their record at 1-1 in the early stages of the season, but Carrero liked some things he saw in the loss.
While Pacelli controlled the first half, taking a 1-0 lead on a Panthers own goal, Carrero said his team came out strong in the second half and played more disciplined.
“We just couldn’t finish it,” Carrero said of the loss. “We played tough in the second half, and I was very proud of our players for the second half. They picked up the pace, and we felt like we were the better team in the second half, but we just couldn’t finish.”
The Panthers had a couple of opportunities as the Vikings ended the game down two players due to red cards, but they were unable to capitalize.
Carrero said they discussed the inability to finish after the game and are working on finishing ahead of the next game against Dothan. Carrero pointed out how Pacelli had several good looks to score in the first half but were unable to convert, but then scored two goals on balls that were not struck that well.
“We had some beautiful opportunities, but their keeper made some excellent saves,” Carrero said. “We had some other beautiful opportunities, but the ball just shot off wide.
“(I think) Pacelli left with a victory thinking that they were lucky. They weren’t celebrating after the game, and my guys didn’t have their heads down after the game, nobody was satisfied with the results.”
The Panthers have suffered several key losses to their roster over the past weeks. Due to a couple of opt outs, an injury and grades, the Panthers are down to just 15 players on the roster, with a bench consisting of three field players and an extra goalkeeper.
Carrero’s ideal team would have 19 to 20 players. It would consist of 11 starters, four to five players who sub in regularly and the rest working on a chance to play and improving in practice.
“Everybody’s getting player time, whether they are ready or not,” Carrero said.
With games at Dothan and Opelika on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively, and a home game Saturday against Brookstone to close the week, the Panthers will have plenty of chances to show what they are made of.
“It was only our second game and the first time we were challenged from the onset,” Carrero said. “My players felt good about the ending of the game, and I think we will play better the next time we are challenged early and respond quicker and hopefully have better results.”