FENTON, Mo. — Van Horn boys soccer coach Jesus Rodriguez’s dream of winning a state championship will have to wait for another year, but his Falcons didn’t go down without a fight.
Van Horn scored a pair of goals midway through the second half to narrow the gap to 3-2 against Fort Zumwalt South in Friday’s Class 3 state semifinal, but the Bulldogs immediately answered with two more goals of their own. The Falcons fell one game short of the Class 3 state championship game with a 5-2 loss at World Wide Technology Soccer Park.
Van Horn (25-3) will play in the third-place game at noon today against Springfield Glendale, which lost 4-0 to Webster Groves in the other semifinal.
Although the Falcons lost, they can’t say they didn’t have their chances. In the first half, they had eights shots, with four coming on goal, including a wide-open, 8-foot shot from senior forward Raynalso Jean-Pierre. His high shot was knocked away by a leaping Bulldogs goalkeeper Luke Dillon. The Falcons had two other shot attempts that were open and inside the penalty box, but they went just wide of the goal.
“We typically make those shots,” Rodriguez said. “Tonight, it was like the soccer gods were not in our favor. The shots were so close. I was a bit frustrated because of that.”
The Bulldogs (20-9) played solid defense throughout, making it difficult for Van Horn to connect on passes on South’s third of the field. It took advantage of some mistakes from the Falcons backline on the other end. South’s Garrett Dickey lobbed a shot toward Van Horn sophomore goalkeeper Cooper Sumpter, who tried to make a leaping save, but it went over his head and in to make it 1-0 in the 11th minute.
Fort Zumwalt South’s Devin Livingstone made it 2-0 about 10 minutes later when he collected a kick that deflected off a Van Horn player, and he put in a rebound from about 10 yards out.
The Falcons committed a foul on South’s Braden Johnson in the penalty box, and he was rewarded with a penalty kick. Johnson punched it past a diving Sumpter to give South a 3-0 lead going into halftime.
“Their defense played a big factor the whole game,” Van Horn junior midfielder Angel DeAvila said while fighting back tears. “We couldn’t put anything in the back of the net because of that. They came out and played hard. They were the better team by far.”
Rodriguez said his Falcons struggled on offense in the first half because they tried to play balls over the top too often.
“I was trying to scream at our guys to keep possession,” Rodriguez said. “When we kept possession, we started to create chances instead of just going from the center midfielder to the forward.
“I told the boys that we can possess against this team. They are good enough. Also, sometimes we would cross the ball and there was nobody there. We should have had a guy there.”
After the Bulldogs dominated possession in the first half, holding a 7-4 edge in shots on goal, the Falcons found a way to possess the ball more in the second half.
The result was their first goal of the game in the 61st minute. DeAvila got a cross from junior midfielder Julio Rios near the top of the penalty box and he drilled a shot that bounced off the stomach of Dillon and into the goal to make it 3-1.
About five minutes later, Van Horn made things interesting. Edison Rios collected a clear attempt from a South player and punched in a shot from just outside the top of the penalty box and inside the right post to cut the deficit to 3-2.
However, just when it seemed like the Falcons were gaining momentum, South seized it back a little more than a minute later. Sumpter came toward the top of the box to challenge an open shot from Johnson. The ball was deflected by a Van Horn defender and the ball went high in the air and toward an empty net.
Sumpter didn’t get back in time to defend the shot as Daniel Bloomfield knocked in a shot from 5 yards out to make it 4-2.
“I told the boys when the keeper comes off, we can’t watch,” Rodriguez said. “We have to come back and fight hard. We need somebody go to the line and get the ball because it’s a scramble. We have to get numbers in there. A lot of our guys were watching the play.
“You can’t leave a guy wide open near the back post. We were so close. We had the tempo and the adrenaline on our side. Then it was just like, ‘Ah man, here we go again.’”
In the 74th minute, South eliminated any chance of a Falcons’ comeback when Bryce Gamache put in a 13-yard shot after a cross from Blake Mann.
“Unfortunately, we made a lot of mistakes in the back tonight,” Rodriguez said. “That cost us.”
Even though his Falcons won’t be playing in the championship game, Rodriguez said he feels good about his team making it back to the state final four in the future.
“We have a lot of freshman and sophomores,” Rodriguez said. “With only two seniors graduating, we have another shot to come back. They don’t have to hang their heads. This is our first (state final four) experience.”