By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
It took the Neosho Wildcats three minutes to unveil what they’ve developed in practice, and what other teams will soon find out.
Forwards Juan Perez and Gabe Zapete are really fast and dangerous in the open field.
When Perez broke free on a counter attack in the opening minutes, he found his newest supporter, Zapete, open on the opposite side for the goal.
Just like that, 1-0 Neosho and a sign of things to come.
“We’ve been working on it in practice, but this is literally the first time it’s happened in a game between us,” Zapete said. “Juan and I haven’t played (next to) each other before, but this year we’re trying to make that chemistry happen. We just gotta keep working on it.”
Perez and Zapete are among the fastest players on a Neosho team loaded with speed.
“You can’t coach (players) to be fast,” said Neosho coach James Carter. “We have the luxury of having guys who can really move.”
In a matchup of Central Ozark Conference teams that won district championships a year ago, Neosho dominated the second half to earn a 4-2 victory Tuesday night on Nixa’s home field.
Zapete finished with a brace. His second goal, just three minutes into the second half, broke a 1-all halftime tie and got Neosho rolling.
“I just give the credit to my teammates. They put me in a great position to score tonight,” Zapete said. “I do it for them.”
The Wildcats added two more goals over the next 15 minutes.
“We wanted to hold possession more. We thought if we could do that, it would help our chances a lot,” Carter said. “We scored early again and we kept the momentum. Once you get the momentum, that’s a big deal. It was kind of a snowball effect for us.”
It was far from a one-man show as Neosho (1-0 overall) put together a complete team effort in its season opener.
Perez added a second-half goal to go with his first-half assist. Junior midfielder Andy Lopez added a goal and an assist as well.
Depth remains a strength for Neosho, which has won four straight district championships entering this season.
“The great thing about our team, in my opinion, is that everybody 1-through-11 can handle the ball,” Carter said. “Everybody can get out and go to goal. Our outside-mids, Andy (Lopez) and Byron (Gomez) were great tonight – especially Byron in the second half. We’ve had the luxury of having great players, so any time someone gets too much focus, we have lots of other guys we can go to.”
Said Zapete: “We lost a lot of seniors last year and a lot of really good players. You know, friends and brothers. But this year, we’re playing hard again.”
After falling behind early, Nixa drew level on a goal from junior Corey Kemp in the sixth minute.
The Eagles nearly took the lead in the opening moments of the second half. Unable to capitalize on a crosser into the box, Nixa gave up a quick counter attack.
Lopez set up Zapete as Neosho went ahead, 2-1.
“We told our guys, ‘Neosho’s good on the break,’ So, we thought we had enough guys back,” said Nixa coach Evan Palmer. “We got a ball down by (Neosho’s goal) and we should’ve scored on it. We had too many guys inside the 6-yard box, nobody back on the 18. It was a beautiful cross, but no one was there to finish. Neosho breaks and scores on us.
“That was the difference in the game. If it stays 1-1, we give ourselves a chance to win.”
Zapete drew a penalty kick in the 52nd minute; Perez converted the ensuing PK to make it 3-1.
Neosho iced the victory with a header by Lopez in the 60th minute.
Unlike recent wins over Hickman and Rock Bridge, Nixa (2-1 overall) couldn’t muster a third straight comeback victory. The Eagles fell behind 1-0 in both of their previous matches.
“We don’t have consistent finishing right now,” Palmer said. “We have a freshman (Caeden Cloud), who already has three goals but he got a knock in the first half tonight and wasn’t as effective the rest of the game. We need our older players to step up.
“We’ll learn from it. We learn from every game. We’re going to get better from (this loss). I like the fight in this team. It’s just that we didn’t play very smart tonight. Our technical skills let us down.”
Nixa plays at Kickapoo on Thursday night. Neosho returns to action Sept. 7 at home against Ozark.
“I like coming out and playing a good team, which Nixa is, because we get an idea of where we’re at right away,” Carter said. “That’s what it’s about, especially early in the season – figuring out what’s good and what’s bad with your team. Tonight, there was a lot of good.”
Neosho 4, Nixa 2
Neosho 1 3 — 4
Nixa 1 1 — 2
Neosho (3’) – Gabe Zapete (Juan Perez assist)
Nixa (6’) – Corey Kemp
Neosho (45’) – Zapete (Andy Lopez assist)
Neosho (52’) – Perez (PK)
Neosho (60’) – Lopez (Bryan Hernandez assist)
Nixa (75’) – Aidan Matlock