After a 7-1 whipping of its fiercest rival on Tuesday, Northwestern should have been celebrating a dominating victory. The Trojans had plenty of reasons to shed the chilly conditions for the glow of fan adulation and a perfect Region 3-AAAA start.
But some other reasons put a damper on the evening.
Northwestern won its first rivalry soccer match of the season on its home field but finished with chagrined looks all around. Closing out the final seconds of a game clearly won, Trojans starting midfielder Alex Martinez was red carded and ejected, his second red card of the year.
That, plus a variety of sloppy play and a rare scoreless performance from captain Enzo Martinez, had coach Dom Wren addressing his charges afterward with a mix of praise and criticism.
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"We defended their game plan very badly to start with," Wren said. "We tightened it up but still we didn't look that sharp. We've got to do a better job of dealing with that."
Wren relented, pointing out that scoring seven goals in a rivalry game without Enzo Martinez was a terrific accomplishment -- it proves the Trojans aren't a one-man show. Two of the youngest players, sophomore Cody Parks and freshman Ricky Garbanzo, each scored two goals and it's not like Martinez was silent -- he had three assists.
But when Alex Martinez was tossed out, Wren erupted. According to the Northwestern coaching staff, two red cards in a season equals a two-week suspension. The Trojans will play their next few games without a large chunk of their system.
"It's a large gap missing in the midfield," said junior Zack Clark, who also had three assists. "Big part of our air attack, right there. We need him in the air."
The Trojans (8-1, 6-0 Region 3-AAAA) met their goal of sending a message during the match, to defend their home field and let the Bearcats (6-2, 4-2) know a win was going to be extremely difficult. Rock Hill used its defensive wizardry to deny Enzo Martinez but after Fernando Gonzalez tied the score at 1 midway though the first half, Northwestern woke up.
Following Gonzalez's score, the Trojans relentlessly pushed the ball downfield and started paying rent in the box. Their next three goals all came after scrums in front of the net turned into dribbling shots past diving goalie Tripp Spradley, pushing Northwestern in front 4-1.
Garbanzo and Parks each added their second goals in the latter minutes, helped by another from freshman Kevin Ray, and Northwestern hit cruise control. The offense was in sync and the defense was ferocious, swallowing long passes before the Bearcats could run under them to set up goal strikes.
"They're a good team," Rock Hill coach Lorne Brandt said. "We knew if we were going to take them, we were going to take them in the first couple. I was hoping we would get the first goal instead of answering."
With Wren hollering on the sideline for the Trojans to keep attacking, Northwestern spread the ball around and kept posting two or three kickers in front of the net. If a score was collected, the Trojans backed off just enough to get a line on a Rock Hill pass before again taking off downfield.
"We started to attack more," Wren said. "Once we did that, we pinned them back, we started to get our rhythm."
"We really wanted it bad," Garbanzo said. "We needed others to step up and we got it."
It turned into yet another more-than-comfortable win, which was great until Alex Martinez was thrown out. The win resonated but the costly penalty lingered.
"You can tell I'm not too happy," Wren said.