All season long, Gainesville boys soccer coach Elie Vivant stressed to his players the importance of locking up a No. 1 seed and home field advantage in the Class 6A playoffs.
Friday night’s first-round contest demonstrated just why that was so paramount.
The top-seed Red Elephants grinded out a 2-0 win against No. 4 seed Harrison at City Park Stadium in a game that at times resembled a slog for Vivant’s usually potent offense. The first-year coach chalked that up to drawing an opponent whose seeding was not quite indicative of its talent.
“They are a good team, and that’s why we needed a No. 1 seed,” Viviant said. “For them to finish fourth in that region really doesn’t show how good they are. I think if they would have been in our region, they’d have been more like a No. 2 seed.”
Gainesville (16-2) moves on to the second round, where it may face an actual No. 2 seed. Vivant’s club will host the winner of second-seeded Glynn Academy and No. 3 seed Drew at a time to be determined next Wednesday.
Cristian Rodriguez and Brandon Reyna each scored a goal for the Red Elephants in what was otherwise a game with relatively limited offense.
That was apparent in the opening 10 minutes against the Hoyas (9-10), during which play was mostly limited to the midfield and neither team registered a shot. But Gainesville finally created an opportunity in the 16th minute by drawing a foul in the attacking third, setting up Rodriguez’ free kick from about 36 yards out that sailed over Harrison’s goalie and into the net.
“From exchanging tape with other teams, we had seen their goalkeeper was weak in the air,” Vivant said. “So I knew that shot was probably going in, and that’s why we kept attacking him in the air.”
The Red Elephants couldn’t convert again, though, as Rodriguez fired two other shots that ricocheted off the crossbar.
Dennis Turcios also narrowly missed a pair of shots, both coming in the final four minutes of the first half. The Hoyas’ goalie made a diving save of his first attempt inside the 18-yard box, and Turcios’ other strike glanced off the left post.
“Honestly, we could have had two or three more go in tonight,” Vivant said.
Harrison, meanwhile, took only two shots in the first half, neither of which were on target. The Region 6-6A Hoyas finished the night with seven corner kicks, none of which posed a serious threat to Gainesville’s stout back line.
Reyna put the Red Elephants ahead 2-0 with a penalty kick in the 54th minute after teammate Pedro Santos was fouled inside the 18-yard box.
Neither squad mustered much of a threat following the goal, though Gainesville had more success dictating the pace of play in the second half.
“They had some bodies and some size on us and were able to move us around physically,” Vivant said. “We moved the ball more in the second half, and that wore them down. They’re used to playing on turf, and once they got tired, it was easier for us.”
Despite their struggles here and there Friday night, the Red Elephants were able to turn their eight game winning streak to close the regular season into a playoff win. They outscored opponents 38-4 over that stretch while clinching the all-important No. 1 seed in Region 8-6A.
Now Gainesville is back in the second round after losing at that stage in last year’s playoffs, and Friday night’s game was a good indicator of why Vivant doesn’t expect any blowouts the rest of the way.
“I think we’re one of the four or five best teams in our class,” he said. “But we’re not going to be winning games 5-0 at this point.”