ATSUGI NAVAL AIR FACILITY, Japan — At 5 feet 1, Brandon Clark is dwarfed by virtually everybody on the field. But in Tuesday’s first-place showdown in the Japan Soccer League, he stood tall.
Clark headed in Kevin Casey’s corner kick in the third minute for his first goal in high school, helping Zama American to a 2-1 victory over the Yokota Panthers in a battle of JSL unbeatens.
“It feels great,” said Clark, a freshman from Las Cruces, N.M., who’s lived at Camp Zama for three years and made the Trojans varsity roster this spring. “I’ve always been trying to score. This was the first time I got a chance.”
Clark’s play belies his size, said senior teammate Jimmy Flatley, who converted an assist by his brother, Brendan. Flatley’s sixth goal of the season came in the 37th minute and proved to be the game-winner.
“The kid’s amazing,” Flatley said of Clark. “He knows what he’s doing. He has good vision. He’s a completely different player from what he looks like. We’re more than happy to have him on the team.”
Zama (9-0) has outscored its opponents 43-8 this season.
The two goals surrendered by Yokota (14-1) matched the total it had given up in its previous 14 matches. The Panthers have 75 goals.
“Now we know we’re in first place and we’re one of the best teams in Japan and the region,” Clark said.
Flatley sounded a cautionary note: “It was a big win, but there’s always room for improvement.”
After coming out flat in the first half, the Panthers appeared to play with more urgency in the second, firing shot after shot at Trojans goalkeeper Luis Cuadrado, who made 12 saves.
Yokota finally broke through in the 53rd minute. Matt Irwin clanged an initial try off the crossbar and then headed in the rebound, just to the right of Cuadrado, for his 23rd goal of the season, which leads the region and Japan.
It was the final Far East tuneup for Yokota, which travels to Okinawa next week for the Class AA tournament, where the Panthers finished second a year ago. Zama faces a JSL road trip to Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station before heading to Okinawa on Sunday.
The JSL title race continues after the Far East showdown. The Trojans and Panthers have two regular-season matchups remaining: May 6 at Yokota and May 13 on Camp Zama.