By Billy Owens
Baltimore County, Md. - After a slow start to the fall 2018 season, the Knights concluded their regular season Wednesday evening with an emphatic 5-2 win over Howard Community College on sophomore night at CCBC Essex Stadium.
Much like the game between the two schools' women's soccer teams that preceded it, the match was fairly close for much of its duration. Neither Essex (11-5-1, 9-2 Maryland Juco) nor Howard (8-8, 4-6 Maryland Juco) could score back-to-back goals until Essex lit up the scoreboard three times in the second half.
Nine Knights' sophomores played their final home game at CCBC Essex that evening: forwards Jordan Fields (Dulaney) and Nehemiah Crawford (Baltimore City College), midfielders Henry Ortiz (Parkdale) and Surafel Assres (High Point), defenders Walter Avila (Bladensburg), Logan Funk (Sparrows Point), Tongwa Aka (Parkdale) and Lawrence Fulton III (Patapsco), and goalkeeper Kyle Cooper (Calvert Hall).
"We've done [a] pretty good job of winning a lot of games, and they've been a big part of it," head coach Joe Fiedler said of his sophomores. "We're getting a lot of goals from the team, we're getting a lot of defense from the team, and our keeper has been really good for two years, so it's great."
Crawford wasted no time giving Essex an early lead, taking a pass from freshman forward Isaiah Price (Bowie) and finding the back of the net just three minutes into play.
The Dragons responded with some aggressive offensive play as well, putting three shots on goal over the next 15 minutes, with Cooper saving all three.
Howard finally earned a goal to level the match in the 21st minute, courtesy of Alexander Estrada-Avila with an assist by Daniel Fuentes. Howard then kept its foot on the gas, forcing Cooper to make two more saves in the 23rd minute.
The Knights nearly regained the lead twice in the 28th minute, as the ball came within inches of crossing the goal line before being cleared stopped by a Dragons' defender.
Starting goalkeeper Simon Bradford moved up well outside the goal area to block an incoming Essex shot attempt, leaving the goal unattended until Dragons defenders sprinted to make two miraculous stops.
Essex recaptured the lead in the 34th minute off a Price unassisted goal. The team ended the first half having scored on its only two shots on goal, while Howard would finish the first half only converting one of its eight shots on goal.
Almost all of the second half was dominated by the Knights, attempting 10 shots compared to just four for the Dragons. However, one of those four was a goal scored by Fuentes in the 50th minute to tie the game at 2-2.
Just four minutes later, Essex went back ahead when Crawford headed a crossing pass from freshman midfielder Jonatan Gonzalez (Gar-Field Senior) past Howard's backup goalkeeper Kevin Villalta, who came in to replace Bradford after his aggressive empty goal play back in the 28th minute led to a yellow card.
The Knights added to their lead in the 68th minute when Price scored his second unassisted goal of the evening to make it 4-2. They struck again in the 81st minute when Crawford teamed up with Gonzalez to head Gonzalez's free kick into the goal to make it 5-2.
"We were super sluggish in the first half, and then the group came together at halftime and decided we were going to play a little bit," Fiedler said. "It wasn't our best game, but Howard's a quality team. I think we just concentrated a little more on what we needed to do and took it from there."
Up next for Essex is the quarterfinal round of the NJCAA Region XX Division I Tournament. The Knights are the home team and No. 3 seed and will play No. 6 Hagerstown Community College (8-8, 5-6 Maryland Juco) at CCBC Dundalk on Saturday at 12 p.m.
The Knights previously defeated the Hawks 5-0 on Oct. 4 and are 7-0 against the Hawks over the last six seasons.