It’s an experiment that has true benefit and merit, but also one with a big hill to climb before permanent implementation throughout...
The Phoenix Pirates had one scoring opportunity against defending state champion Stayton in the Class 4A boys soccer semifinals.
And the Pirates made it count.
Omar Iboa's goal about 15 minutes into the first half proved decisive as Phoenix defeated the Eagles 1-0 in a steady drizzle Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
The victory avenged Phoenix's 2-1 road loss to Stayton in last year's quarterfinals. The Pirates will carry a 12-game winning streak into Saturday's state finals at Liberty High in Hillsboro against Molalla (14-2-2).
The Pirates' goal came when Iboa, the leading scorer for his team, received a pass from Eddy Arevalo near the top of the box, made a slick move to his left past a Stayton defender then booted a hard, low right-footed shot into the left side of the net past all-state goalkeeper Rolando Garcia.
Iboa couldn't even remember the play after the game. All he knew was the shot proved to be the game-winner.
Iboa was moved to forward from his center-midfield slot about seven games into the season. The Pirates (14-3-1) had suffered back-to-back loses to Skyline Conference foes Klamath Union and Henley and the offense was lacking.
The three-year varsity starter didn't embrace the change at first.
"I was comfortable were I was," said Iboa about playing midfield. "I could see more of the ball at the midfield. But I did it for the team."
The move by veteran Phoenix coach Dennis Flenner to generate more offense certainly paid dividends for the Pirates. This was Flenner's fourth semifinal appearance in his 17th year running the Phoenix program. Flenner's Pirates lost in the state finals his first year in 1995. This will be his second chance for a state title.
"(Iboa) is an incredible finisher and it showed 20 goals later," said Flenner. "He's one of the most exciting players. He brings it."
The Eagles (16-2) got what would have been the equalizer about four minutes later, but Javier Topete's goal was negated because of an offside ruling.
Stayton seized the momentum in the second half and possessed the ball about 90 percent of the time. Senior Jose Ramirez, the 2010 state player of the year, and Topete, a junior, constantly led the Eagles' attack but neither could get a quality look.
"We came out with more passion and urgency in the second half," said Stayton coach Chris Shields. "Phoenix is a good team. They got the one opportunity and took advantage."
While Phoenix didn't get a shot after intermission, Stayton was limited to three shots and four corner kicks.
Phoenix senior goalie Roberto Cook had trouble controlling the wet ball on several occasions but the Eagles weren't in position to cash in. Cook made some good moves coming off his line to corral loose balls in the box.
"(Cook) gets really excited and the ball was really wet," said Flenner. "He had to come out because they were putting the ball through quite a bit."
Stayton's best second-half chance came seven minutes into the period when Ramirez's direct kick from 23 yards looked like it was going to tie the game before being headed away on the goal line by Pirate defender Jesus DeLaCruz.
Early in the half the Eagles were patient, stringing together passes as the Pirates' defense allowed possession but did not make a crucial mistake. In the last 10 minutes, Stayton began getting more frustrated by attempting some long-range shots that went astray.
Senior Cody Porter came up big the final five minutes with numerous stellar defensive plays as Stayton was in a full-out attacking mode. Porter broke up at least four dangerous crosses that were placed deep in the box during waning minutes.
"I'm going to do everything I can to keep the ball out of our net," said the speedy Porter. "Me and Mario (Esqueda) have been working well together. If I step up, I know he'll be back there to get it."
Flenner admits his squad went into a defensive posture in the second half.
"There was big pressure, especially in the second half, because any mistake could put them right back in the game," said Flenner. "They had to push the ball and we were flexible, bend but don't break. We didn't want to sacrifice our defensive integrity to try to score some more."
And fortunately, Iboa's goal is all the Pirates needed.
Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480 or email@example.com