After 2020 meltdown, Knights prove mettle by mounting 2021 comeback, clinching playoff berth

Hopeful+that+his+shot+will+find+the+goal%2C+senior+forward+Luis+Auyero+watches+as+it+find+the+bottom+corner+before+turning+to+celebrate+with+his+team.+The+game+was+a+tale+of+two+Auyero+goals.+He+accidentally+scored+the+game%27s+first+goal+on+an+own+goal+off+a+LASA+free+kick%2C+but+he+made+up+for+it+by+finishing+his+game-winning+shot+off+a+cross+from+junior+Michael+Alverson.+

Lindsey Plotkin

Hopeful that his shot will find the goal, senior forward Luis Auyero watches as it find the bottom corner before turning to celebrate with his team. The game was a tale of two Auyero goals. He accidentally scored the game’s first goal on an own goal off a LASA free kick, but he made up for it by finishing his game-winning shot off a cross from junior Michael Alverson.

Lindsey Plotkin, Knight co-editor in chief

When the 2020 season was cut short due to COVID, the four teams that made the playoffs in McCallum’s district were disappointed that they wouldn’t have a chance to extend their season. The Knights, however, were disappointed with their entire season that ended before COVID could cut it short.

We gained momentum and confidence with the tying goal, and I knew we could turn it around.”

— senior forward Luis Auyero

As the 2019 area champions, the Knights joined everyone else in having high expectations for the team in 2020. A successful start to the season during pre-district play inspired more confidence, but once the Knights began district play, they found themselves unable to win a game. 

After enduring a winless 2020 district season, the McCallum boys soccer team finished the season at the bottom of the district table. Juniors Aidan Golliher and Reed Johnson embraced the role of leaders on a team that aspired to atone for 2020 with a successful 2021 season.

After six 2021 district games, the Knights were perfectly mediocre: two wins, two losses, two draws, but starting with a 3-1 win over LASA on Feb. 24, the Knights reeled off four wins and a draw to arrive at the doorstep of clinching the playoffs and redemption from the previous year’s suffering. With a win over LASA on Tuesday, the Knights would finish no lower than third place in the district standings, thus guaranteeing the team a trip to the playoffs.

On a very windy night at Nelson Field, the Knights again faced the Raptors, who needed a win just to remain in playoff contention in their inaugural season after separating from LBJ at the end of last season. 

In the first half, the Knights controlled more of the possession, but neither team created many shot opportunities and the game remained scoreless. Because both teams had a lot to play for, the style of play was very physical. 

Dribbling up the field, junior forward Kenta Asazu looks for his next defender to beat. Asazu was successful with pressing LASA’s centerbacks, forcing mistakes and creating turnovers for the Knights. (Lindsey Plotkin)

Midway through the second half, a McCallum defender committed a foul outside of the Knights’ 18-yard box. Senior goalkeeper Vaughn Burger set the wall, but in an attempt to block the kick, senior forward Luis Auyero accidentally knocked the ball into his own net, giving the Raptors a 1-0 lead.

Knowing what was at stake for their season, the Knights responded to the first-half deficit with a second-half equalizer. Junior Seth Parsegian scored the game-tying goal off a rebound of a shot from Auyero that caromed off the post. 

All the boys have taken part in being on each other’s backs, making sure everyone is at their best all the time.”

— senior captain Aidan Golliher

“[After the own goal] I knew I had to get one back somehow,” Auyero said. “We gained momentum and confidence with the tying goal, and I knew we could turn it around at that point.”

Auyero fully atoned and then some for his early miscue with a goal of his own for the correct team this time. The goal, which proved to be the game winner, came off a pass from junior Michael Alverson. Auyero fought off two LASA defenders and buried the shot in the side netting, giving the LASA goalkeeper no chance to make a save. The goal put the Knights in front of the Raptors, 2-1, and the Knights held on from there to win the game, officially clinching at least third place in district, thus guaranteeing a spot in the playoffs. 

At the end of the 2020 season, if you told any of the returning members of the team that they would make playoffs the next year, they probably wouldn’t have believed you. Senior captain Aidan Golliher said that mentality and leadership were the keys to the team’s success this season. 

Auyero embraces junior outside back Silvio Guzman in a moment of relief after Parsegian’s goal tied the game. Earlier tin the game, Auyero scored an own goal for the Raptors, so Parsegian’s goal helped him get his head back in the game. Later in the game, Auyero scored the game winner for the Knights. (Lindsey Plotkin)

“I think a lot of it is probably mentality was a big issue, so we went into this season knowing it was going to be an uphill battle for us and we know we can improve from last season since last season was a really bad season for us,” Golliher said. “The whole team went into this [season] knowing that we have nothing to lose and that the mentality has to be a whole lot better than last season. A lot of it has to do with leadership. I think all the boys have taken part in being on each other’s backs, making sure everyone is at their best all the time, at practice, at games, just holding each other accountable.” 

Everyone is doing their job correctly, and we just really have that desire to make it to playoffs and be better than last year.”

— junior captain Silvio Guzman

Junior captain Silvio Guzman agrees with Golliher about the team’s energy and mentality. 

“Our energy is just a lot better,” he said. “Everyone wants to play, and everyone wants to win. Everyone is doing their job correctly, and we just really have that desire to make it to playoffs and be better than last year. The newcomers and seniors this year really want it, and everyone really wants it, so I think the energy and motivation is what changed.”

Senior captain Reed Johnson values his experience with the 2019 team and wants his teammates to have that same experience. 

“We went three games deep in playoffs two years ago, and it was a valuable experience as that team was really good and we’re excited to replicate that this year,” Johnson said. “The biggest thing was coming in from the beginning knowing we had a team that could win and trusting that.”

While winning never comes easy, the team put in the effort and successfully qualified for the playoffs, clinching the spot with a record of six wins, two losses and three ties. 

“We knew that we had nothing to lose,” Golliher said. “If we won, we would get better seeding, so we just had to work to put ourselves in the best spot possible.”

Following a LASA foul outside the penalty box, junior Silvio Guzman stepped up to take the free kick for the Knights. Guzman has played a key role as a versatile player for the Knights, defending and making runs up the outside of the field to get crosses in and go to goal. (Charlie Partheymuller)