As good as Charlottesville and Western Albemarle boys soccer’s defenses are, you’re not going to get many chances and you’re probably going to need a touch of luck even then.
When the Black Knights’ Evan Blow came streaking down the left flank early in the second half he got that chance and made good on it with a goal that stood up as the game-winner in a 1-0 victory for Charlottesville Wednesday night.
“Ayat (Mohamed) whipped it up high and I just placed it high — both the keeper and the defender missed the ball so I just wanted to get it above them and I just chipped it,” Blow said. “It was really exciting.”
Mohamed unleashed a tremendous arching cross from the right side, and it found its way through the Western defense before Blow blasted it in for the winner.
After that, Charlottesville (7-0) continued to maintain possession as they had since nearly the opening kickoff, forcing corners and drawing fouls with smart but aggressive runs and plays. Of course, the Black Knights’ speed and experienced forced Western to adjust the gameplan going into the game as they ran a more defense-focused, counterattack heavy scheme than usual. The difference maker was that Charlottesville’s midfield in particular didn’t allow the counterattack part of that game plan to get going very often. Instead the ball usually quickly transitioned back to the Black Knights for another potential run.
“What wasn’t expected and where they deserve credit was in our ability to transition out of that into attack, there was no design to sit back,” said Western coach Milo Oakland said. “But with a team that fast and that (stacked with) veterans, it’s understandable you’d end up standing back and catching your breath.”
Charlottesville’s speed up top made things tough on Western defenders and midfielders like Mike Kunkel, Kevin O’Shea, Jed Strickland and Caleb Wood among many others who contributed to trying to shut off Charlottesville’s relentless attack. But Abibi Osman, Mohamed, Blow and Barun Tamang helped lead that attack that kept Western on its heels or catching its breath much of the night. With the rest of the midfield holding the ball in and in turn creating offensive opportunities, Charlottesville was in the driver’s seat.
“We don’t get to play teams that good that often, in fact that may be the best team we’ll play — Albemarle is great, Mills Godwin is great and they’re right up there at the top of the best teams we’ll play,” Oakland said.
The Black Knights have made a clear leap forward this year, both in their ability to keep the ball in the opposition’s defensive third and to not get rattled. When things like calls inevitably don’t go their way or physical play gets injected into the run of play, the Black Knights have in some years past become unraveled. In this clash with Western, they rarely got rattled and when they did they seemed to reign it back in quickly instead of letting it snowball into a bigger problem.
“It was a robust game,” said Charlottesville coach Stephan Cost. “We can’t get at this point where we’re just kicking balls, we’re talking about what cue do you see that we’re getting out of control and how do you bring us back under control.”
Both teams needed this one too, a chance to measure themselves against top-notch competition. They measured up Wednesday night, engaging in a well-played game among two of the Jefferson District’s top three teams.
“Every game we’ve won like 8-0 and we haven’t had much competition — Albemarle was really our only competition,” Blow said. “But Western, we knew they were going to come out strong. To prepare for states, which is our goal, we have to have more of these games so we had to see how we can get better and improve.”
Blow’s goal off of Mohamed’s cross made sure that one of these games didn’t have to serve as a moral victory for the Black Knights as it has occasionally over the last few years. This time, Charlottesville got the win and the learning opportunity — which is exactly what they were looking for.