In the first season for John Brose as head soccer coach at Cleveland, the Blue Raiders lost to Soddy-Daisy in the region 3-AAA soccer final. Since then, Brose and the Raiders have won two championships in a row and will be going for their third consecutive title Thursday in Cookeville.
After a slow beginning, the Blue Raiders scored one goal in the first half and picked up the intensity in the second half with two more to defeat the Coffee County Red Raiders 3-0 in semifinal action.
“We came out and didn’t play well at the beginning of the game, Brose said. “Give credit to Coffee County, they worked really hard. Their defenders were good and kept them in the game. We could have scored a few more but at this point it’s all about surviving and moving on. We are happy just to move on to Thursday.”
The openings were there for Cleveland (10-7-3) in the first half but the Raiders had trouble closing the deal on several occasions. In the 20th minute, Seth Goza headed a corner kick that ricocheted off the far post and was cleared by the Red Raiders. Minutes later, after a heated battle in front of the goal, Wes Llosa came up just short when he went face first into the same post that thwarted Goza.
“We had all sorts of opportunities we just couldn’t put one in the back of the net. We had a lot of one vs. ones where we couldn’t bypass their keeper who came up with some good saves. Sometimes their defenders came out of nowhere to kind of save them a little bit,” Brose said. “In the second half we started to play much, much better.”
The Raiders fired 16 shots on goal against Coffee County (6-8-1) to the Red Raiders’ eight with Cleveland keeper Garrett Koon making five saves on the night.
Llosa finally found the back of the net at approximately the 30-minute mark on a cross from Goza with a blast by the Coffee County keeper to give Cleveland a 1-0 lead.
“It was a good little ball from Javier Rico over to Seth Goza who knocked it back across. Wes was there to finish it,” Brose recalled. “It did pick up our momentum. From there we definitely picked it up.”
As the second half opened, the Blue Raiders went on the attack and forced the Red Raiders to play more on the defensive end of the field.
“We knew if we could pressure their backs and put a lot of pressure on them in general that we could get it off their foot and give us some good opportunities. We saw a lot of that in the second half,” Brose explained. “We upped our pressure and upped our intensity which led to more opportunities.”
The pressure paid off in the 60th minute when Sterling Hines put in a corner kick from Daniel Jackson to make it 2-0.
“Sterling Hines put the game away on the corner. It was a good little finish by him,” said the Cleveland coach.
With time winding down, senior forward Shane Butler put the game away for Cleveland with a final goal on a rocket from 25 yards.
“It was a great shot by Shane at the end of the game to put the icing on the cake,” said a pleased Brose.
The coach went on to say he was pleased with the final outcome, but Thursday the Blue Raiders will need to put together a full 80 minutes of soccer if they want to play at home Saturday.
“Even though we started off not too well and looked a little shaky, from the second half on we were in control of the game. I’m proud of the way we came out and played the second half,” he said. “Now we just need to put a full performance together on Thursday because we will definitely have our hands full.”