By Ruben Lowman
Led by head coach Brian Smith, the North Myrtle Beach Chiefs boys soccer team look to play attacking soccer, dominating the opposition and possession, while creating lots of scoring opportunities.
Last week, Smith witnessed the culmination of a lot of hard work over the course of the season, as he saw his team control, dominate and create at will in blowout region wins against South Florence and Wilson.
First up, the Chiefs hosted the Bruins at NMB Middle School last Tuesday night.
Chiefs midfielder Kyle Nicholl opened the scoring early after five minutes in spectacular fashion, setting the tone for how the game was going to go for the Bruins. Fellow NMB midfielder Jesse Foster took the ball on the turn near the edge of the box, taking two defenders with him, and back-heeled the ball to Nicholl, who dispatched a rocket into the top right corner.
After a long chain of possession and passing inside South Florence’s half, the Chiefs added another after winger Luca Testa drilled a cutback across the face of goal, with Nicholl right on hand to blast home his second of the night.
North Myrtle Beach was on top and dominating the game. Foster and defensive midfielder Albert Arguijo were controlling the central areas, striker Gavin Cartwright was running the South Florence backline ragged and Nicholl kept finding himself in acres of open space.
And a reality check.
As Chiefs central defender Jay Langeneck went to clear the ball, a Bruins attacker attempted a nasty tackle and Langeneck went down injured in the 20th minute and had to leave the game. As things stand, he’s expected to be out for a few weeks with a possible LCL sprain, maybe more.
It was definitely a blow to the team, right as they were building momentum. But as Chiefs goalkeeper Nolan Long told me, everyone knew it was time to step up when they saw one of their captains and leaders go down injured.
Langeneck is the rock at the heart of the Chiefs defense, and without him, NMB made it their mission to blow away their opponents.
The Chiefs reacted.
A diagonal ball played behind the Bruins backline by Arguijo put Testa in a one-on-one with the South Florence keeper, which Testa calmly slotted away into the corner of the net. A long spell of possession then left the Bruins chasing shadows and the Chiefs went into halftime with a dominant three-goal lead.
A rocket from Testa’s right boot at the top of the box added another goal for NMB after the restart. Testa said it felt great to get his brace against a good team in the region in the Bruins, as they are crucial goals along the way to the playoffs. But for him, it’s all about the team and the wins.
“It feels amazing to be winning how we are, as it is important to not only win our games, but to keep possession and be as dominant as we have been,” Testa said. “We have been coming into each game as if it is our last, since we need to be more consistent with our performances, which I believe we have been doing as of late.”
Foster, the quintessential all-action attacking midfielder, never quit running, racking up a couple of assists and even making a goal line clearance that preserved the clean sheet for the Chiefs. A late goal by Arguijo off a throughball by Foster made it 5-0 Chiefs and game over.
Arguijo’s goal was due reward for his performance, as he bossed the midfield, controlling play and setting up his teammates time after time and making sure to put his stamp on the game with his physicality and presence.
The Chiefs backline completely nullified the potent threat of South Florence’s junior forwards LaNorris Sellers and Gabriel Gerschutz, who came into the match with 22 goals collectively already this season. Bruins’ head coach Christiaan Storm was left frustrated by the Chiefs’ stifling defense, and his players were unable to cope with the relentless waves of pressure NMB kept throwing their way.
Foster said that losing Langeneck at such a pivotal time is definitely tough, and that he and his Chiefs teammates are optimistic for his return. But he said they wouldn’t let that stop them, and they would use it as fuel to the fire for the remainder of the season.
“No matter the injuries or absences within our program, we have the talent with every player on our team,” Foster said. “And I believe that we can keep pushing forward with a positive attitude even with the mishap.”
After a few days off and then a long road trip to Wilson, it was time for the Chiefs to get back to work last Friday night. The Tigers proved a difficult team to break down through the initial quarter of the game, effectively looking to camp out in their half and hope for a goal on the break.
It wasn’t to come.
Nicholl once again opened the scoring, heading in his third goal of the week off a fantastic corner from Chiefs winger Ben Lewis in the 27th minute. Nicholl said a tweak Smith made to the lineup gave him the freedom to keep popping up in the right place.
“Always feels good to score for the team and school,” Nicholl said. “Coach Smith switched the positions around a little this past week giving me some new opportunities to contribute the goals for the Chiefs. I hope the goals continue to go in.”
Lewis scored himself three minutes later, after excellent build-up play once again involving Arguijo and Foster. Arguijo released Lewis down the left, and the left-footed winger fired a rocket past the keeper and into the far corner from the edge of the six yard box.
Shane Monahan followed that up just five minutes later with a header, a loose ball from a corner falling to Chiefs winger Jacob DeFlieger, who swung a cross into the box for Monahan to power home over the Tiger defense and give them a comfortable three-goal advantage.
Chiefs full backs Jackson Adler and Braydon Baeli tirelessly worked the channels and quickly tracked back to snuff out any signs of danger, giving the Chiefs backline energy and defensive solidity in the absence of Langeneck.
In the 65th minute, Chiefs midfielder Alex Testa drove through the heart of the Tigers defense, evading several defenders and firing a rocket past Wilson’s keeper Samuel Floyd, who was left flat-footed as the ball whistled past him and scorched the back of the net. A late penalty that Long nearly saved gave the Tigers little consolation on the night, as they were comprehensively taken apart and dominated, falling 4-1 to NMB.
The win took the Chiefs to 9-4 (7-2 in Region VI-4A) on the season, and gave them three dominant performances in a row at a crucial time in region play. Smith said the team has had little streaks before and the story of the team’s season has been “perspective”.
“Not getting too high on ourselves after a big win or too low on ourselves after a tough loss,” Smith said. “We’re focusing on playing our style to the best of our ability regardless of result.”
The victories over Hartsville, South Florence and Wilson take NMB to second place in the region after Myrtle Beach’s loss to West Florence on Monday night. Both the Seahawks and Chiefs now have two losses, but NMB has two more victories.
“I’m proud of the boys and the results that we have put up in the last three games,” said Foster. “I believe that our performances were necessary after a couple of bad weeks and these games have put us right back on track.”
Nicholl said that the key victories have brought some much-needed confidence back to the team after a couple tough losses, and they now have momentum heading into some big matches coming up.
“We want to focus on making the playoffs first, and then play our best for the Chiefs community,” Nicholl said. “We have some loyal fans that go to every game, so we want to make them proud.”
The Knights of West Florence have firmly established themselves as the team to beat for the region title this year after their key wins against the Seahawks and Chiefs, their main threats to the title. West Florence is undefeated in region play heading into the big rematch with the Chiefs this Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Juniors Jayrd Walton and Floyd Goodstein have paced the team with 26 goals combined already this season, and seniors Drew Shaw and Jack Kitchen have chipped in with seven and five goals respectively.
Simply put, they’re a threat. Smith said he was excited for the game.
“West Florence is an excellent team,” Smith explained. “They’re very aggressive defensively and move the ball so quickly when they have it. I’m excited about the rematch and hoping to see growth in handling that pressure from the team.”
Foster agreed with his coach, saying he and his teammates are very excited for the rematch. He said the team is confident of their chance going into the game and will be desperate to take a positive result from it.
“We live for the big games and we enjoy fighting for each other,” Foster said.
Long said he felt ready to show the Knights the Chiefs team they defeated 3-0 in Florence in mid-March was a different team than now, and he wants them to make a run for the region championship.
That starts this week against West Florence, as their match at Darlington on Tuesday was postponed to April 28 because of the weather. Every athlete dreams of playing in the big games such as this week as they matter the most, Luca Testa said, and he was looking forward to it.
“Every single player on our team is excited to play against an incredibly strong and talented West Florence side, and we want to put on a show in our stadium for our supporters,” Testa said.
The team took a big hit with injuries this past week, Nicholl said, but NMB has players who are hungry to step in and perform against top quality teams like the Knights.
“A Chiefs win against West Florence at our home field will make the playoff scenario pretty interesting,” Nicholl said.
With spring break right around the corner after the rematch with West Florence, Smith is intent on keeping his players focused on the task at hand. He said it couldn’t come at a better time for him and the team.
“It allows the boys to get some rest, and me more time to work with the team. Two games per week is tricky to manage,” Smith explained. “I’m hoping to get a lot of work in over the break.”
With so many seniors on the team and the Class of 2022 senior trip quickly approaching, Smith will be left with much of his starting lineup gone for a non-region home game on April 26 against Socastee. He said it would be a chance for him to give some of the younger players on the team well-deserved minutes after their impacts this season.
“We have 11 seniors on this team, and they are all so good,” Smith said. “We will certainly miss them against Socastee. This will be a good chance for our underclassmen and I have complete confidence in them. Some of the younger guys have emerged as real talents this year.”