In a matchup that may end up being a preview of an opening round district game, the Venice Indians upended their district 4A-11 rival Charlotte, 2-1, in Punta Gorda on Tuesday night.
For the Indians, this marked the second time this season they edged the Tarpons by a single goal. Venice turned back Charlotte 1-0 on Dec. 4, in Venice.
“Again, just like in Venice, I think we played a very good game. We had our chances, we just couldn’t get the one we needed,” said Tarpons head coach Greg Winkler. “It was a hard fought battle and very physical. We’ll likely see them again, so we’re going to have to be ready.”
A late yellow card and a couple of non-serious injuries late in the game attested to the physical nature of the play.
Venice didn’t waste much time flexing the back of the Tarpons net.
Only a few seconds shy of the two-minute mark, Indians’ sophomore Frederick Mergos scored the tally. Shortly after an Indians corner kick, Mergos took the ball on the opposite side of the goal from the kick. He took a few dribbles and rolled a grounder past a diving Gavin Pennell.
With offensive possession fairly even for each team, the Tarpons seized on one of their opportunities nine minutes after the Mergos goal.
Freshman Tyler Amaral steered a shot into the far-left side of the Venice net in the 11th minute. He was set up by senior Kaden Howell. The ball was just inches beyond the reach of Venice net minder Stefan Slavov.
“Kaden played me a beautiful ball, and I took a touch before shooting,” said Amaral. “I had a shot earlier and I didn’t take a touch, so I thought a touch would help me. I just got it past the goalkeeper.”
The back-and-forth pace of the game continued for the rest of the first half. When the half arrived, they were even at 1-1. Charlotte nearly took the lead, however, late in the half. But a diving save by Slavov preserved the deadlock. The Venice goalkeeper dove quickly to his left on a hard shot six inches above the ground.
“Though it was a very physical game, we kept our composure very well, so I was pleased with that,” said Winkler.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 53rd minute by Micah Davis.
Davis, with his brother Drew in the face of goalkeeper Pennell, was the last to touch the ball for Venice. It looked to many as though Drew had picked up the tie breaker on a header.
“No, I never touched the ball,” said Drew Davis. “I decided to hop on the keeper to keep him from getting out. I really didn’t know who scored the goal. At the time, I wasn’t sure if the defense deflected it in, or if it was headed in by one of our guys.”
Charlotte battled the rest of the way and had several good chances in the final five minutes – but Venice held its ground. The closest miss was a free kick by James Bluck that went over the crossbar by no more than a few inches with two minutes left in the match.