Even the Silverdale crowd had to applaud after Howard’s Amos Vytzigiro scored the Hustlin’ Tigers’ second goal in a 2-0 win over the Seahawks. The junior striker had made a well-timed run past the midfield and received the ball mid-stride. When a Seahawk confronted him, the elusive dribbler pulled out a five star skill move and feinted right.
This move completely froze Silverdale’s backline, and there was plenty of space for Vytzigiro to pick out a shot.
He decided to place his low driving shot to his right, and his Seahawks suddenly had a commanding 2-0 lead going into the half. It was his second goal of the game, with his first coming off a set piece where he took the pass from another teammate’s head and blasted in the goal.
“I think he’s up to 16 or 17 goals this season, and he’s a very composed player who is a pure striker who is very hungry for goals,” coach Jose Otero said. “He plays for the team, but the team also plays for him.”
The Hustlin’ Tigers’ defense was on a string for the first 40 minutes, and the Seahawk strikers looked like they were ready to tear their hair out in frustration after a parade of warranted offsides calls. Instead of playing a possession game, Silverdale sat back and tried to hit Howard on the counter whenever they got the ball. The targets were usually Nate Hampton, Mason Newberry, and Andrew Duong, but those targets were constantly flagged to the chagrin of the home crowd.
The second half was a completely different story, with the Seahawks timing up their runs like early-2000s Arsenal and now putting oodles of pressure on Howard’s back line. Playmaker Caleb Greco was extremely active in the attacking third and got several one-on-ones with Howard’s keeper.
In one thrilling sequence, Greco beat everyone downfield and had only the keeper to beat. He bore in from the right side and shot to the far post, but Howard’s keeper smothered the shot and returned the ball to the attack. After Howard’s Wesley Escobar Diaz and Jeyson Roblero Perez moved the ball up the field, the ball fell to Vytzigiro’s feet. He tore across the grass and would have had a hat trick, had the ball not gone wide.
But for the first 20 minutes of the second half, plays like Vytzigiro’s were few and very far between. A worn-down Hustlin’ Tigers squad looked like they were running on almost-empty. Time and time again, Howard was a step slow as the Seahawks raced downfield on these counterattacks. These attacks would have led to defeat had the visitor’s goalkeeping not been top -notch.
“This is our third game of the week, and I honestly think we ran out of gas a little bit,” coach Otero said. “Our team right now is very young, and I think we gave it all in the first half.”
Howard settled down for the last 20 minutes, in large part due to do-everything sub Yordi Ramirez. His versatility was a boon for his team; on one possession he could be seen dropping back and almost playing like a centerback. But then his team would gain possession and he would advance to the midfield, take the ball, and advance it to the wings. Then Ramirez would overlap with the winger and provide an inviting outlet, get the ball again, and then whip a cross in to Vytzigiro or a teammate.
“He’s the player on my team that can play literally any position and is great with both feet,” coach Otero said. “He’s a sub that plays everywhere and I’m very fortunate to have a player like him. He sets the tempo.”
Because of calmer play and Ramirez’s ability to keep possession moving as part of a short-passing scheme, Howard was able to start draining clock while maintaining possession. And the Hustlin’ Tigers found an extra burst of energy to close the game, shutting down the Seahawks counter like they had in the first half. Like Tyner-Brainerd the night before, Howard looked forward to next week’s big game against Signal Mountain once the final whistle sounded.
“They’re a great team and they’re very big, physical and fast,” coach Otero said. “One of our Achilles heels is playing against teams with size, and tonight was good practice playing against a team that is tall and big. We needed that to get us ready for the game against Signal. We just need to keep the ball on the ground and playing fast is to our advantage.”