PHOENIX — The seeding said it was an upset. It sure didn’t feel like one.
American Leadership Academy-Ironwood, the No. 19 seed in the Class 3A boys soccer playoffs, took an early lead and never looked back in a 2-0 play-in round win over No. 14 Phoenix NFL Yet Academy on Friday.
In just its second season in the Arizona Interscholastic Association, ALA-Ironwood grabbed its first playoff win in program history. The significance of the moment was not lost on Warriors coach Jeff Laniewski.
“The kids are psyched, I’m psyched as well,” he said. “They’ve worked hard for this, and it’s good too because we’re a young team. We start a lot of young players; we don’t have a senior ... pretty much freshmen and sophomores on this team, so we’re feeling pretty good about that.”
The Warriors (8-6) pounced on the Eagles (9-8-2) just four minutes in, as Alexander Orywall made a strong move toward the left goalpost. After drawing goalkeeper Juan Carlos Hernandez in his direction, he fired a sharp pass across the front of the goal, which was buried in the right corner of the net by Eloy Solis for a 1-0 lead.
It was the 11th goal of the season for Solis, a junior. ALA-Ironwood maintained possession for much of the first half, and Solis slipped through a crack in the Eagles defense in the 31st minute. He had a one-on-one with the goalkeeper. He caught Hernandez leaning the wrong way and casually chipped the ball into the right corner for his second goal of the night.
That goal, No. 12 on the season for Solis, gave the Warriors a 2-0 lead heading into the half. That lead held up in the second half thanks to strong team defense and a couple of big saves from sophomore keeper Elijah Pensis-Ramirez.
Laniewski said the performance of sophomore defenseman Christian Hardenburg was a big reason why the defense was so successful against the Eagles.
Solis is now tied for the team lead in goals with freshman Kevin Chacon.
“He’s been a great leader all year,” Laniewski said of Solis. “He’s just been so solid, and he’s keeping the kids under control during the game because we sometimes get excited being a young team. So he’s a calming presence.”
Solis had a good opportunity for a hat trick on a free kick midway through the second half, but Hernandez made a terrific diving stop to his left.
Laniewski said it was big for his team to get an early goal. In his scouting of NFL Yet Academy, he noticed the team could become frustrated when playing from behind.
The Warriors will likely play No. 1 Scottsdale Coronado (12-2-1) in the next round Feb. 15. But the Warriors have played some of the top 3A teams very close, so they won’t be intimidated.
“We’ve played four out of the top eight teams, so we’re feeling pretty good about it,” Laniewski said. “If we play the way we played tonight, we’re going to be pretty good.”