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Slow start dooms Gainesville soccer team in home loss to Habersham Central
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Gainesville's Pedro Santos attempts to shoot the ball while Habersham's Aydan Tyree, center, and Alex Ramirez block his shot at City Park Stadium on Friday, March 22, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

The Gainesville boys soccer team conceded two goals in the opening 20 minutes of its Region 8-6A match against Habersham Central and never fully recovered, falling 3-1 to the Raiders Friday at City Park Stadium.

Jorge Vasquez scored the lone goal of the night for the Red Elephants (10-2, 5-2 Region 8-6A), a first-half penalty kick that cut the deficit to 2-1. But Gainesville could not turn the slight shift of momentum into more scoring.

Gainesville coach Elie Viviant said bad luck played a role in the defeat, but also that the team could have shown more effort in the late stages of the game. 

“We are not taking it seriously, and they are not bad,” Viviant said. “That’s what happened. We got unlucky on the first two goals. We did have possession most of the game.”

Habersham Central’s Alexis Laguna got the Raiders on the board first with a strike to the bottom right corner of the net off a deflection. Steven Bennett made it 2-0 about 10 minutes later after collecting a through ball right outside of the box and sending a shot into the top left corner.

Holding the early advantage, Habersham Central switched to a more defensive play style that frustrated Gainesville’s attack. 

“They felt they could sit and counter us instead of us trying to play the game and them trying to play the game as well,” Viviant said. “It was a lot easier for them to just sit back and us running, running, running with the ball. It’s a little bit hard after a while.”

Vasquez scored his penalty kick in the 21st minute of the game, and while the Red Elephants struggled to make anything else happen the rest of the way, it wasn’t for lack of trying. 

Gainesville put 10 shots on frame in the opening half, testing Habersham Central goalkeeper Alex Ramirez on a number of occasions, but each time Ramirez came up with the save. The Red Elephants also earned six corner kicks in the first 40 minutes, but finishing chances off remained an issue despite the many opportunities. 

“We didn’t play bad,” Viviant said. “We both had chances. But they scored theirs, and we didn’t score ours.”

Much like the first half, Habersham Central struck quickly in the second to put the game further out of reach. Angel Zavala headed the ball to the far post off a corner kick, just four minutes after the halftime break to push the lead to 3-1. 

Gainesville’s Armando Hernandez had a couple of chances late, but his free kick just outside the box in the 69th minute went wide left of the net and his shot in close in the 79th was saved by Ramirez.

The loss is only the second of the season for the Red Elephants, but Viviant was quick to emphasize the importance of not letting one defeat snowball into many. He pointed to next Tuesday’s game against Dacula as perhaps the most important of the season thus far. 

“We have to win Tuesday,” he said. “That’s where it goes. We have to win on Tuesday.”

GAINESVILLE GIRLS 2, HABERSHAM CENTRAL 2 (3-2 PKs): Amayia Lukie and Anna Ruiz scored goals for the Lady Red Elephants in regulation, and Gainesville outshot the Raiders 3-2 in penalty kicks after a scoreless extra period. 

With the teams knotted up at 1-1, Habersham Central’s Addie Penick scored just before halftime to put it on top 2-1. 

Ruiz equalized in the 53rd minute to finish off the scoring for the game.

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