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Albuquerque High’s deep bench proves too much for Demons

September 28, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE — There was something about taking on the “Amazon of Albuquerque soccer” that was so deflating for the Santa Fe High Demons on Wednesday afternoon.

As they prepared to take the pitch at Albuquerque High, the Demons were greeted by new faces they hadn’t seen in the first half. Roughly eight of the 11 Bulldogs who started the second half came off the bench, while the starters sat, getting an extended breather.

Eventually, heart could not overcome the conveyor belt of rested, aggressive players who wore down Santa Fe High, which had only five players to call upon to give its starters a few minutes of rest. Albuquerque High, the defending big-school champion, opened District 5-5A boys soccer play with a 3-2 win and further cemented itself as the team to beat.

It helps to have 22 players on a roster who are all equally capable of starting and a coach willing to use it to his advantage.

“You end up having a lot of guys in games who can help you,” said Albuquerque High head coach Lucien Starzynski. “It even puts pressure on starters because no one can get comfortable. If they are not performing and having a rough day, then there is someone who can come in and make the game better.”

The Demons (7-3-1 overall, 0-1 in 5-5A) started off strong, taking a 1-0 lead on a Mat Hunter goal seven minutes into regulation, and were tied 2-all at the half, but fatigue hit them by the midpoint of the second half. They bunkered down in their third of the field, trying to stave off wave after wave of Bulldogs attacks. Even when it seemed like Santa Fe High was holding its on, the Bulldogs (6-2-1, 1-0) trotted another rested player who wreaked havoc all over the field — but mostly on the Demons’ side of the field.

Albuquerque High senior Rindra Josoa portended the Demons’ fate when he took to the field in the 62nd minute after a half-hour break. Within his second minute of action, Josoa slipped in behind the Santa Fe High back line for a pass and crossed the ball to forward Tristan Castillo in front of the net. Only the swift action of Demons goalkeeper Sergio Equino interrupted the impending scoring chance as he cleared the pass.

“Our effort is really our own advantage over all these teams,” Hunter said. “When you can’t physically can’t give that same effort, it let’s them have all the advantages.”

Effort could only hold off the inevitable for so long, and the end came from another fresh-faced Bulldog — junior Alberto Rodriguez. He chased down a pass over the Demons defense into the right corner, then flipped a cross to Jorge Gonzalez, who headed the ball over Equino and into the upper half of the goal to break the tie.

“It’s a quality team, and they really have two teams,” Santa Fe High head coach Rob Quirk said. “We just don’t have it. We have some injuries, but even without it, we still don’t have the depth. That’s what killed us.”

Even facing the constant rotation of Bulldogs, the Demons had a chance at stealing a huge road win. They could thank Hunter for that opportunity. The forward opened the scoring when he stole the ball from junior defender Nick Griego just outside the Albuquerque High penalty box, then redirected it into the upper right corner of the net.

“We went into this game feeling like we might get a little outclassed,” Hunter said. “We were just going to have to make up for it. So, it was great to assert ourselves.”

It appeared the Bulldogs stole momentum back thanks to a penalty kick goal by Castillo after a foul in the box during a scrum for the ball and an Edgar Campos goal over Equino off a thru ball from Dennis Villanueva in the 30th minute. Only, Hunter took it back when he beat the Bulldogs back line and fired a shot to the right of Albuquerque High ’keeper Jose Sevilla in the 35th minute to knot the score at 2-all.

Hunter had one more salvo in him, as he once again beat the Bulldogs defense on a counterattack in the 51st minute, cut to the middle of the goal and had a momentary sliver of daylight. But it closed quickly as a trio of Bulldogs surrounded him and Hunter’s shot sailed over the goal.

Starzynski credited the skill and hustle of the Demons for making it a longer day than he and the Bulldogs wanted it to be.

“They have a fantastic little ’keeper there,” Starzynski said. “And that fantastic number nine [Hunter], who had two goals. I thought they did things really well. They got good numbers around the ball and they protected. They would take their chances on the counter and defended real well.”

If only they had a factory of players like the Bulldogs did.

It’s hard for a mom-and-pop shop to compete against a machine.

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