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Rota's Carlos Lindo wills his penalty kick past Vicenza goalkeeper Sam Grady in the Cougars 5-3 victory on Friday, April 29, 2022.

Rota's Carlos Lindo wills his penalty kick past Vicenza goalkeeper Sam Grady in the Cougars 5-3 victory on Friday, April 29, 2022. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

VICENZA, Italy – With less than three weeks left before the DODEA-Europe soccer championships, one might think that Friday’s matchup between Vicenza and Rota might help both teams figure out where they stand.

If so, one might be wrong.

The Cougars earned a 5-3 triumph over the Admirals in a game where both teams played a lot of players in a lot of positions.

“We’ve got a lot of talent,” Vicenza coach John Kohut said. “We just need to learn how to play together.”

That talent was in evidence in the first half when the Cougars took a 4-0 lead – taking advantage of Rota mistakes and also some nifty passing.

Vicenza's Andrew McGovern battles his way through the Rota defense on Friday, April 29, 2022.

Vicenza's Andrew McGovern battles his way through the Rota defense on Friday, April 29, 2022. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Owen Haupt opened the scoring by diving into Caeleb Stelker’s crossing pass and heading the ball into the goal from 7 yards out. Just minutes later, another Stelker cross wasn’t played by anyone until it landed at Anthony Poropat’s feet. He rocketed the ball into the net for a 2-0 Vicenza lead. Haupt then outran the Rota defense to the ball after it had been kicked over all their heads and kicked it into the net from 13 yards out.

Vicenza began to sub liberally. Gordon Heap then dribbled through the center of the Rota defense before scoring and it was 4-0. Shortly after that, Heap crossed the ball perfectly to Peter Hartman, who was standing alone in front of the goal and it was 5-0.

Rota was also putting new players into the contest, but it had a far shorter bench. And the Admirals started to rally. Tyler DeMeritt cut the advantage to 5-1 before halftime. He scored again in the second half on a header near the goal. Carlos Lindo added another goal on a penalty kick.

Rota's Zeppelin Hasselbring and Vicenza's Colin Freeze battle for the ball in the Cougars' 5-3 victory on Friday, April 29, 2022.

Rota's Zeppelin Hasselbring and Vicenza's Colin Freeze battle for the ball in the Cougars' 5-3 victory on Friday, April 29, 2022. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Vicenza's Gordon Heap tries to gain control of the ball to make a run at the Rota goal in the Cougars' 5-3 victory over the Admirals on Friday, April 29, 2022.

Vicenza's Gordon Heap tries to gain control of the ball to make a run at the Rota goal in the Cougars' 5-3 victory over the Admirals on Friday, April 29, 2022. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

In the meantime, Rota’s top goalkeeper, Nathan Alindog, put on his green jersey to start the second half and proceeded to shut out the Cougars, even when starters returned en masse after Rota’s third goal.

“Goalie is where he shines the most,” Rota coach Desiree Romero. “He just wanted to play in the field a bit today and we’re just trying to give everyone some playing time.”

Rota goalkeeper Star Mercado watches the ball race toward her in Vicenza's 7-0 victory over the Admirals on Friday, April 29, 2022.

Rota goalkeeper Star Mercado watches the ball race toward her in Vicenza's 7-0 victory over the Admirals on Friday, April 29, 2022. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Rota’s Shelby Jonroe, left, and Vicenza’s Julia Rudy try to gain control of the ball in the Cougars’ 7-0 victory on Friday, April 29, 2022.

Rota’s Shelby Jonroe, left, and Vicenza’s Julia Rudy try to gain control of the ball in the Cougars’ 7-0 victory on Friday, April 29, 2022. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Girls

Vicenza 7, Rota 0: The girls game was much more straightforward as well as convincing. All but a few minutes was played within striking distance of Rota goalkeeper Star Mercado – who had never played the position until a week before the season began.

Senior Cougars standout Riley West has handled the Lion’s share of the Cougars’ goals this year. She started it off again with a shot from 15 yards out that bounced off Mercado’s outstretched hands into the goal for a 1-0 lead.

But West’s teammates then took over as Sara Fitch, Maya Fitch, Caecilia Janssens, Alaura Stelker and Julia Rudy followed in quick succession to put Vicenza up 6-0.

Rota’s highlight in the first half was Mercado stopping a penalty kick from Avonlea Sparling. It was one of seven saves she made on the day as Vicenza outshot Rota 16-0.

Sparling was back before the net early in the second half, though, and she converted this time to give her team a mercy-rule advantage.

Vicenza's Riley West takes a shot on goal before Rota's Michelle Valezquez-Santiago can get to her Friday, April 29, 2022 in the Cougars 7-0 victory.

Vicenza's Riley West takes a shot on goal before Rota's Michelle Valezquez-Santiago can get to her Friday, April 29, 2022 in the Cougars 7-0 victory. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Rota coach Daniel Bennett asked his team if it wanted to keep playing and liked the response.

“We kept fighting,” he said of a squad that features one senior, one junior and the rest underclassmen. “Every single game they play, they’re stronger than before.”

Vicenza coach Adam Ridgley said he was encouraged to see his team, now 3-0-2 on the season, spread the scoring around. He said he’s still looking for “a more sophisticated” approach on offense and “not just running and chasing and shooting if you get the ball.”

Vicenza's Avonlea Sparling takes a penalty kick in the first half of the Cougars' 7-0 victory over the Rota Admirals on Friday, April 29, 2022.

Vicenza's Avonlea Sparling takes a penalty kick in the first half of the Cougars' 7-0 victory over the Rota Admirals on Friday, April 29, 2022. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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