With lightning and heavy rain delaying Tuesday’s Raytown South Tournament semifinal between Van Horn and North Kansas City, Falcons head coach Jesus Rodriguez was concerned about how his team was going to handle the field’s wet conditions.
"Every time it rains, we try to practice on the field," Rodriguez said. "The field plays fast when it's wet. The weather disrupted the rhythm at the beginning because we were on them before it started raining.
"The ball travels so fast, they have to have an excellent touch. Some of our guys are still sophomores and freshmen. It does affect some younger kids who have to pass in tight spaces."
If that wasn’t adding enough difficulty, Van Horn was facing a Class 4 team that notched a solid 18-6 record a year ago.
But even in the unfavorable conditions, The Falcons defense buckled down and did enough on offense to take a 2-0 win against the Hornets.
They will play in the championship game at 5 p.m. Thursday against the winner of the Truman-Raytown South game, which was postponed by the weather and will be played at 4 p.m. today.
In the first half, both teams went back and forth taking quality shots within 30 yards of the opponent’s goal. Van Horn goalkeeper Adrian Chavira, who is stepping in for the recently graduated all-stater Daniel Orozco, made a handful of saves on the night and was backed by a backline and midfield which helped block three free kick attempts.
"Our defense was excellent today," Rodriguez said. "I did chew them out after the last game for being kind of soft and we weren't going in hard for the balls. The defense is going to take us far."
Van Horn had several quality looks in the first half that were knocked away by Northtown keeper Grant Lorenzen, including a sharp kick from returning all-state midfielder Angel DeAvila.
The Falcons finally broke through midway through the first half when Joxel Figueroa drilled a free kick past Lorenzen from about 25 yards out for a 1-0 lead. Figueroa had been working on set pieces a lot in practice, specifically adding more power to his shots. The practice paid off for the junior midfielder.
"I told him, 'Hey, the field is slick, you have to put more power into your shots,'" Rodriguez said. "That's one thing I was getting onto him about. He wasn't putting in enough power in his shots, so their keepers were getting to it. So he kept practicing and practicing, and today he executed it beautifully."
The Falcons had a close call early in the second half when Manny Escobar's wide open shot from the top of the box curve just left of the right goal post.
North Kansas City got a red card midway through the second half and that gave Van Horn the advantage. Forward Reynalso Jean-Pierre added an insurance goal with 5:42 left when he knocked in a close-range rebound off a Northtown defender.
"As a striker, you have to push in," Jean-Pierre said. "You got to be there to get the rebound and that's what I did."
For the time being, the 2-0 Falcons seem like they have picked up right where they left off from last year's 24-0 undefeated regular season.
"We're going to take the win against a good Class 4 team," Rodriguez said. "(The Hornets) are going to get lots of wins. They are a good team.
"We are on our way to becoming that team we want to become."