Short-handed Knights no match for Elkins

KINGWOOD — Call it ‘playing catch up,’ or maybe ‘on the job training.’
Times are a tough for the Preston boys’ soccer team, which dropped a 6-2 decision to visiting Elkins on Thursday.
First-year coach Paul Rebelo — he took over last month after Mike Adams resigned — is working with a roster of only 14 players and the team is suffering through some key injuries.
The game also showed that the Knights are improving.
The Tigers (3-2-1) took advantage of PHS’s unfamiliarity with a new formation to jump in front in the first minute on a well-placed shot by Dean Fletcher, and midway through the first, Ethan Wilson dribbled through the defense and slipped the ball around Knights keeper JT Flores to double the advantage. But Preston (0-5) played alert defense, trapping EHS offsides on numerous occasions, generated a few counter attacks as well, and stabilized the play through the rest of the half.
In the second half, Elkins took back the momentum early, mostly from the efforts of striker Liam Gongola, who potted a pair in the space of 68 seconds at the 44-minute mark. Preston got on the board in the 51st minute on a textbook counter-attack goal. Midfielder Eric Mace sent a long, penetrating pass deep down the left side for speedy forward Monty Rebelo to run onto. Instead of settling, Rebelo deftly crossed with one touch across goal to Josh Land, who calmly settled, then buried a right foot shot.
Gongola was able to work his way around and through the tiring PHS back wall for another two goals in the 65th and 67th minute to put the game out of reach. But perhaps the most impressive score of the game was a 45-yard, perfectly placed, powerful free kick from Land that snuck between the crossbar and the fingertips of the Elkins keeper.
After the game, PHS assistant coach Nick Royce saw the game as a bit of a microcosm of the Knights’ season thus far.
“We are short-handed, so it can be tough to simulate game speed and situations in practice,” he explained. “That sometimes leaves us a little unprepared for the speed and intensity of the game at the start. Plus we’re still getting systems in place.
“But we’ve seen big leaps forward in every game,” he continued, “and that’s been very encouraging. I liked how we settled in after a rough start, and started to clean up our back end, connect with the midfield, and generate more quality chances. We’re staying positive, the guys are working hard and are supporting each other, and we know our best soccer is ahead of us.”
Preston heads on the road to Jefferson on Saturday and Buckhannon-Upshur on Tuesday before returning home next Thursday against Lewis County.

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