Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
The 2018-19 Clewiston Tigers varsity soccer team was able to finish their season with an impressive 17-2-1 record.
The Clewiston Tigers varsity soccer team, fresh off their district championship win on Feb. 1, headed into the regional playoffs with hopes of making a run to the state championship.
First up for the Tigers was a district quarterfinal match against the 8-9-1 Desoto County Bulldogs on Feb. 6 in Clewiston.
The Tigers wasted no time against the Bulldogs, going up 2-0 before halftime. They’d add two more goals before the game would end while only giving up one. Clewiston sent DeSoto home with a 4-1 loss.
Clewiston soccer phenom sophomore Josue Gonzalez controlled the DeSoto defense all game and was responsible for three of the Tiger goals. Gonzalez nearly had all four goals, but his last shot hit off the crossbar and bounced back in front of the goal. Thankfully for the Tigers, freshman Emilio Rico was in the perfect spot to send the rebound into the net.
Tigers coach Skip Crawford says his team dominated from the first whistle.
“That game easily could’ve been 7-1,’ said Crawford. “We dominated that game from the beginning, pretty much lived on their side of the field for the whole game. We were able to spread them out, and they were just not as fast as us. We did what we needed to do there and took care of things.”
The lopsided victory meant the Tigers moved on to the regional semifinal, where they would face the 13-5-5 Cardinal Mooney Cougars on Feb. 9 in a cat fight for a spot in the regional final.
The Cougars were coming in off their own dominating win over DeSoto County in the regular season on Jan. 31 where they won 5-0.
It didn’t take long for Clewiston to see Cardinal Mooney’s game plan, which was to stop Josue Gonzalez at all costs. The Cougars doubled and even sometimes triple-teamed Gonzalez for almost the entire game. Still, despite being triple covered, Gonzalez managed to get his shots in, including an early ball that was denied with a great save by the Cardinal Mooney goalie.
Even with their best player being essentially taken out of the game, Clewiston still hung tough with the Cougars. Neither team notched a goal in the first half.
Things looked up for Clewiston in the second half as they came out playing fast and looking like the more dangerous team. A majority of the second half was played on the Cardinal Mooney side of the field.
With five minutes to go in the second half, it looked like the game might be headed to overtime, but Cardinal Mooney was able to advance the ball onto the Tigers’ side of the field and send a crosser into Clewiston’s net to go up 1-0.
Ultimately, that Cougar goal in the final minutes would prove to be Cardinal Mooney’s ticket into the regional final, as Clewiston went on to lose 1-0.
“Cardinal Mooney is a big, strong team,” said Crawford of the Cougar’s roster. “They’re fast too. But we played right there with them, they knew they were in a battle. I spoke to their coach afterwards and he said that the game could’ve gone either way. I think if we were able to score on one of those early shots we would’ve won the game. Because that would’ve changed how we played defense in the second half.”
Now the Tigers season is over, and their attention turns to next year where they hope to learn from the lessons of the 2018-2019 season and make another run at a state championship.
Although they’ll still have Josue Gonzalez on the field, who will be a junior next year, the Tigers are losing some key seniors who helped lead the team on the dominant run the program has enjoyed for the past two years. Captains Jesse Paniagua, Martin Paredes and Juan Puentes along with fellow seniors Jose Benitez, Anthony Munoz, Cristobal Antonio, Juvenal Velazques, Jose Salmeron, Guadalupe Munoz and Angel Reyes will all be leaving the Clewiston soccer program this year.
Crawford credits this group of seniors for bringing the current atmosphere of confidence and winning culture that Tigers soccer now exudes on the field.
But Crawford is excited for next year and thinks the program is more than ready to finally take that next step into the state championship.
“I think we had a great year,” said Crawford of the Tigers season. “Our assistant coach, Martin, did an amazing job with these guys, training them all year long. We know the level we have to be at. We’ve been to the regionals now two years in a row. Our deal now is to keep building.”