With it being Senior Night for the American Leadership boys soccer team Thursday night against Maeser, senior and team leader Joseph Valle had one more chance in the regular season to show off his moves.
In the 22nd minute, Valle found his spot as he weaved through the Lion defense, cut the ball away from the lunging Maeser keeper and slid the ball easily into the open net. He capped the celebration with a full back flip.
But 17 minutes later, the Lions nullified Valle’s magic as forward Wesley Hadfield stole a ball off the Eagle defense and drilled it in to tie the score.
So Valle just went to work again.
“We knew the goal we gave up was a mistake” Valle said. “Mistakes happen. They are part of the game. We had to turnaround from the mistake and get another goal.”
A minute later, the ALA star showcased more of his impressive skillset with a dazzling combination of headers and foot redirects to get into striking distance. Maeser keeper Josh Lewis made two stunning saves but couldn’t get to the third (a bullet from Eagle senior Christian Brizeula, the first of his two goals) that put the home team on top for good.
ALA pulled away to get the 5-1 win over the Lions and head toward the 3A state playoffs riding high.
“It was all about focus,” Eagle head coach Antonio Mendieta said. “These are the games you have to win and that requires being focused and giving an extra percentage of energy. Hopefully we can continue that at state.”
Valle also scored the third and fourth goals early in the second half for ALA, first heading down a well-placed free kick and getting it to trickle just inside the far post and then perfectly placing a long shot from the left side.
His three-goal hat trick and how he set up the fourth goal was a very impressive regular-season finale.
“Joe is a different player,” Mendieta said. “He’s come a log ways since we started working with him three years ago. He’s a disciplined player who takes care of himself and puts in the extra effort. His ability is a consequence of hard work and discipline … and a little talent.”
Valle said he just wanted his team to get the win.
“It wasn’t just me,” Valle said. “The whole team did the work and I was just fortunate to get the goals. It was a team effort and we all won.”
Maeser head coach Dustin Simmons said that even though the Eagles pulled away in the second half, he was proud of how his Lions played.
“They (the Eagles) are a solid team and Valle is the best player in the state,” Simmons said. “We played well the last time we played them as well but they just were too much. Good teams do that.”
He said the game just got away after the second ALA goal.
“We just couldn’t get the ball out,” Simmons said. “Our keeper made some crazy saves but Valle is so patient. He found someone. This is also the only team in our region that plays on a football field, so the field is bigger and they exploit the space.”
Both teams now turn their attention to the 3A state tournament. The Eagles (15-1-0, 12-0-0) clinched the Region 14 title earlier in the month and are slated to take on winless South Sevier at ALA on May 1.
“We need to continue to tweak some things,” Mendieta said. “With this short time, it’s hard to work the whole field but we have worked on some things as a team and gotten better since Game 1.”
Valle said the goal of this Eagle squad is to get back to the top of the classification.
“We’ve been to the semifinals in each of the last two years but not won through,” Valle said. “We’ve used that energy to push us to get past that. We also have a great coach who pushes us, who doesn’t let us slack off.”
Maeser (8-4-1, 8-4-0) will be either second or third and will host in the first round – a first for the school in its history.
The winners will then advance to the 3A quarterfinals on May 4.