The Van Horn boys soccer team started the season with a thud when it lost 3-0 to Blue Springs in the first round of the Raytown South Tournament.
At the time, the Falcons were short-handed, missing five projected starters because of injuries.
Recently, a few of those key players have returned to give a boost to a Falcons team that made the Class 3 state final four last season. On Wednesday, midfielders Joxel Figeuroa and Juan Rangel, along goalkeepers Cooper Sumper and Adrian Chavira, all played after missing the opener. They helped Van Horn earn a 2-0 win over the St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Guardians in the Pembroke Hill Tournament.
“With Joxel, it’s going to be a game-to-game thing,” Falcons coach Jesus Rodriguez said of Figueroa, who’s battling injuries to both knees. “We’re going to play him in a couple of hard games. If it’s an easy game, we’re going to rest him and make sure he’s OK. His injury is not going to go away. He’s already accepted he’s going to play through it.”
So far, the Falcons are 2-0 in the round-robin Pembroke Hill tournament and can capture the tournament title with a win over Ewing Marion Kauffman Charter at 4:30 p.m. today.
Van Horn is still waiting on the status of sophomore forward Kobe Otano, who is dealing with a leg injury. Rodriguez said he could be back as early as today.
“Kobe is going to get seen tomorrow by a doctor to see if he can get cleared to play,” Rodriguez said.
As it gets some key players back, Van Horn’s quality of play has gone up. The Falcons are 4-0 since the loss to Blue Springs.
“In the beginning, it was a little rough without everyone healthy and on the field together like last season,” said senior midfielder Angel DeAvila, who led the Falcons Wednesday with a goal and an assist. “Even before they came, I felt like the chemistry increased. Then them joining the team made us top notch.”
That was apparent when Van Horn scored its first goal with 1:17 left in the first half. DeAvila had an open shot deflected by St. Michael goalkeeper Vincent Haggerty, collected the rebound and sent a perfect cross to Rangel, who put in a point-blank shot inside the left post for a 1-0 lead.
“I think this is a pretty good start, and hopefully there are more goals to come,” Rangel said. “This is my second game and I actually have my ankle taped up. That goal boosted my confidence a lot. When I shoot the ball, it hurts a lot, so that’s why I keep touching it to keep a little more pressure off of it. I am supposed to get X-rays on it. Hopefully it’s nothing major.”
Rangel is trying to rebound from a rough 2018 campaign in which Rodriguez said he didn’t play up to his potential. For the past two games, the senior has been trying to prove his worth with a sore ankle, but so far, he’s been able to play well despite the ailment.
“It’s always good to see those guys out there, especially Juan,” Rodriguez said. “I always tell him to play like his sophomore year, but better. We’re trying to get his confidence and get his fitness level back.
Sumpter and Chavira, who have also been welcomed back from injuries, combined for the shutout in goal.
“It feels pretty good having Coop and Chivi back in goal,” DeAvila said. “They play a big role on the team. They come up with big saves and are a big help to the team.
“Since that Blue Springs game, everyone’s motivation has gotten so much better. Nobody likes to lose, of course. After (the loss), it hit us, and we started working hard.”
After Rangel gave the Falcons the lead, DeAvila extended it when he outran a pair of Guardians defenders, moved to his right and drilled a shot off the right post that ricocheted to the back of the net.
Van Horn had several other chances to score, including a handful breakaway attempts from junior forward Edison Rios, who either barely missed or was thwarted by the Guardians back line or the goalkeeper.
“He had about a million breakaways,” Rodriguez said of Rios. “If someone saw the 2-0 score, it doesn’t justify all the chances we missed. But hey, a win is a win.”
On Tuesday, the Falcons began the tournament with a 2-0 win over host Pembroke Hill. Senior midfielder Julio Rios punched in a free kick from 35 yards out to put Van Horn ahead. Five minutes later, DeAvila scored from 25 yards out after stealing the ball from the Raiders at midfield.