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Youth Lead Santa Fe past Eastside in Statement Victory

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By Declan Walsh
Twitter – @dawalsh_UF

The Santa Fe Raiders (2-2), notched a massive victory on Tuesday night, traveling away from home and defeating the Eastside Rams, 3-1.

Both teams were slow off the jump, with neither squad being able to move the ball effectively and errant passes being fired around the pitch. Some of this can likely be attributed to the cold temperatures and difficult terrain, but there was a palpable lack of intensity on both sides.

“I definitely want everyone to pick up the intensity a little bit more,” said Santa Fe coach Paul Richardson. “Faster passes, on the ground.  When you have a field in this kind of condition where there is kind of unevenness, a little bit muddy, you want to measure that.”

Much of the opportunities in the early going came from dead ball situations, as Santa Fe earned several free kicks in their attacking third and saw a few opportunities develop due to partial or ineffectual clearances from Eastside.

The Rams saw their first major opportunity in the 18th minute, as a reckless Santa Fe tackle resulted in a free kick just outside the area. However, the chance dissipated as the shot was fired straight into the wall.

Fittingly, Santa Fe found the breakthrough in the 22nd minute through a scruffy goal from Tevin Smith. His shot from distance was deflected, leaving the Eastside keeper wrong-footed and propelling the Raiders to a 1-0 advantage.

Santa Fe keeper Graham Steen faced his first real test in the 30th minute, parrying a well hit shot that look destined for the top corner.

Eastside’s pressure continued to mount towards the end of the first period, culminating in a massive missed opportunity as an Eastside attacker pounced on a spilled shot by Steen only to fire wide right of the gaping net.

The second half saw play open up quite a bit, with Santa Fe doubling its advantage just two minutes into the period.

A wonderful individual effort from Kenny Contreras-Lopez saw him beat his defender down the right flank and whip in a cross to senior Tevin Smith, who looped a shot over the keeper and off the woodwork. The ball ricocheted off the back of the keeper and into the back of the net, growing the lead to 2-0 in unique fashion.

Eastside (1-1-1) saw a few opportunities to halve the deficit in the ensuing minutes fall flat, but were eventually able to find the back of the net in the 57th minute after a well taken goal from center back J.J. Romaraog. Romaraog won the ball in the midfield, feinted left and fired a shot across the goal into the bottom right corner, cutting the lead to 2-1.

Contreras-Lopez continued to terrorize the Eastside backline, running down the left flank and forcing a strong kick save from the Eastside keeper shortly after the restart. And after Santa Fe earned a free kick shortly thereafter, Lopez beat the keeper for pace at his near post, restoring a two goal advantage for the Raiders.

The final 20 minutes saw Eastside string together a few strong attacking movements and force a few good saves from Steen, but the defense held firm and Eastside never truly threatened to get back into the game as Santa Fe rode out 3-1 victors and earned a massive victory away from home.

Not to downplay the performance of Smith, but the young core of Raiders stepped up in a huge way.

The performance of sophomore Kenny Contreras-Lopez was quite clear, but freshman brother Michael played just as well in holding midfield. He was a strong tackler and maintain disciplined positioning, while also being confident in possession and serving as the catalyst for many of Santa Fe’s early attacking movements.

Coach Richardson emphasized the importance of the Lopez brothers and other underclassmen players to the Raiders’ success.

“They are fantastic players,” he said.  “They are really smart on the ball and they play really quickly. A few of our J.V. players stepped up, in particular #11 Colton Weiser.

“He was on J.V. last year but he came back incredibly different. He’s been positioning himself incredibly well in the midfield and I think he is going to do fantastic.”

After taking a beating in their first game against Buchholz, Santa Fe seems to be growing into the season quite nicely, now posting two convincing victories in their last three outings.

The Raiders will look to ride this momentum into the Thanksgiving break, hosting Columbia (Lake City) (1-2) before 12 days off.

Although the Rams did grow into the game and started to see good movement, they will have to be disappointed by their inability to keep possession and reliance on individual play, especially on home soil.

The Rams will need an improved performance Thursday as they travel to Ocala to take on a very tough Forest (2-1) team.

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