Coach Nicolas Sosa has only lost seven times in 56 matches as the coach of the Providence boys soccer team, but on Sept. 9 all the cards were stacked against him and his team to add to that total.
The Panthers had struck first in the game when freshman David Sturgis slipped a shot past the Charlotte Catholic keeper to put Providence up 1-0 just 13 minutes into the game.
But in less than three minutes, the Cougars had already answered and tied the game at 1, a score that would remain unchanged through halftime.
But with 6:36 to play in the opening half, the Panthers were dealt the first of their three strikes.
Chasing down a Catholic forward on a breakaway, a Providence defender yanked the Cougar striker down by his jersey and was given a red card, making the Panthers play the rest of the match down a man.
Worse, by the time 10 minutes had passed in the second half, Charlotte Catholic’s Patrick Fenton had put in two goals within 30 seconds of each other to give the Cougars a 3-1 advantage that looked insurmountable.
But Sosa began to see his team had a chance and he knew why.
Sosa said he takes his team to the beach over the summer to train in the heat and humidity.
It’s not fun, but he thinks the conditioning is what separates his team and has led Sosa to a 42-7-7 record in two-plus seasons with the Panthers.
“I tell the guys that teams can stay with you for a half because they’re in decent shape,” he said. “But it’s the second half where we’re going to come through because we do the type of training professional soccer teams do. It showed today.”
The Panthers first got on the board at the 32:45 mark when Jackson Youngstrom came through with his first goal of the game.
Youngstrom was the So. Meck 7 Player of the Year last season, when the all-state forward scored 40 goals and added 20 assists.
He got the first goal started with a nice touch, and got the Panthers back to within one goal.
But the Cougars subbed in defenders and packed the back lines to prevent much of the Providence attack.
“It was probably about the 30-minute mark or so where I could see them getting tired, so I told my guys to keep attacking and good things would happen,” Sosa said.
The Panthers had their chances.
Youngstrom got free around the 10-minute mark and fired a shot at the goal which Charlotte Catholic keeper Andrew Gilles saved.
Four minutes later, Matt Vetack launched a long shot that was deflected back out, but then came the chance Sosa and the Panthers had been waiting for.
With a ball unsecured bouncing around the box, Gilles made a play at it in the air but the ball got past him and right to the foot of Bennett Proctor, who deposited it in the goal with 2:16 to go.
The end result was a tie, but it could ignite them as they kick off the So. Meck 7 schedule on Sept. 17 against Harding.
“It’s a rivalry game and they used to be in our conference so we know them,” Sosa said. “It was probably the first game since I’ve been here that we were faced with that much adversity and came out of it.
“Normally I tell my guys that a tie for me is like a loss, but this is the first time I told my guys a tie actually feels like a win. We could have tucked our heads and went home and let them keep scoring on us, but we didn’t and we fought. It was awesome.”
Following the game, Charlotte Catholic coach Oscar Del Pino said Youngstrom and the Panther attack was among the best the Cougars will see all season.
“It’s never fun to come up with a draw, but for what we showed – being down by two with not much time left and down a man – it kind of shows what we are as a team,” Youngstrom said. “Catholic is a good team and it was a hard game, but it was good for us and I think we’re still trying to come together.”
The win, played on a humid night in a chippy atmosphere that saw multiple yellow cards, was sort of a playoff-like environment. It was also the type of win that could spur a big season for a team already ripe with expectations.
“When you find yourself in those positions you have to do what you have to do,” Youngstrom said. “We only scored with two minutes left so we had to play hard the whole game, keep fighting and it happened for us. It was a good comeback for us and shows where we want to be.”