A position change seems to suit Grain Valley senior Noah Espinosa just fine.
Moved back to center midfielder from forward for the first time in his high school career, Espinosa helped set up Alex Thiessen’s two goals and tallied a score himself as the Eagles won 3-1 at Blue Springs Thursday in the first meeting between the two schools.
“It was a different transition,” Espinosa said. “I coped with it, played some good passes, and I enjoyed it.”
Carrying a three-match losing streak into the contest, the Eagles seemed in top form with Espinosa controlling the offense and distributing the ball from his new position to Thiessen, Nathan Racz and Grain Valley’s other forwards.
“We were struggling a bit these last few games and were looking for something extra,” Grain Valley coach Tyler Nichol said. “We dropped him back from forward and I think he gives us some cover there but still picks the right moments to get forward.”
Espinosa and Thiessen particularly seemed in sync, connecting on several passes that left Thiessen with scoring chances in the Wildcats box.
“It’s a great duo with Noah and Alex,” Nichol said. “It’s very crisp when those two guys are working together. When they’re on the same page they can play with the best of them.”
The Eagles got on the board less than five minutes into the contest. Racz ran onto a great through ball into the box from Espinosa, then when his shot hit the right post, the ball deflected right to Thiessen, who took one touch to his left and fired it into the net.
Blue Springs immediately answered back. Giorgio Orlando, a foreign exchange student from Italy, settled a long pass from Adam Fencl in the Eagles box, made a nice move to get past a defender and then hit a rocket shot into the goal.
Another Espinosa pass led to what turned out to be the Eagles’ winning goal late in the first half. The through ball perfectly set up Thiessen, who sent a shot into the far side of the goal.
“(Espinosa’s) passing is pretty phenomenal,” Thiessen said. “He took a couple of guys on and just slotted the ball through. His passes were the key to setting up my goals. I was one-on-one with the goalie on both of my goals so I didn’t have to do a whole lot. I’m glad to have him on my team.”
In the second half, Espinosa did the scoring himself. After winning a ball in the midfield, he sprinted with it downfield, beat a Wildcats defender and then placed it past the Blue Springs goalie.
“(Nichol) always tells me to take a defender on with speed,” he said. “I heard him on the sideline saying, ‘Take him on, take him on,’ so that’s exactly what I did and shot it far post.”
Nichol, a Blue Springs alumnus who played under Wildcats coach Mike Palermo, said facing his alma mater and neighboring school is good for the Eagles program.
“It’s fun for us,” he said. “We wanted to ramp up our schedule and play some Class 4 schools. We learned a lot from it.”