STERLING – Sterling had a hard time getting into gear during Tuesday’s soccer game against LaSalle-Peru.
The solution: Feed the ball to Carter Gearing.
The senior midfielder scored a pair of goals as the Golden Warriors squeaked out a 3-1 victory against the Cavaliers at Roscoe Eades Stadium.
It was a surprisingly close game, considering the recent history between the two clubs. Sterling won 8-0 and 9-1 decisions a year ago, and improved its all-time record to 15-0-1 against L-P, with the exception being a 2-2 tie in 2012.
“They’ve made some huge strides,” Sterling coach Brian Cebula said. “They’ve got a few guys on their team that are much better than they have been in the past, and they seem to be more together as a team now. I think the days where we’ll have these easy wins against them are over.”
“I am very proud of the way the boys played tonight,” L-P coach Leo Trujillo added. “I was looking at the past 4 years, and the difference has been 29 goals to five for us. To come here and play 80 minutes, and the way the boys performed, I am very pleased.”
LaSalle-Peru (5-4-1, 0-3 Northern Illinois Big 12) broke through first on a penalty kick from senior forward Daniel Aguilar with 21 minutes, 18 seconds remaining in the first half. His kick to the right side of the goal scooted past Sterling keeper James Roddy.
Roddy had tripped the Cavaliers’ Jesus Cruz in the box to set up the penalty kick opportunity.
Sterling (5-3-1, 2-0) came back to tie the game with 7:01 remaining in the first half when Gearing was taken down in the box. He then converted the PK chance, slipping it by L-P keeper Jalen Depenbrock on the left side.
“In practice, I had taken a couple to the right corner, and a couple to the left,” Gearing said, “and both I kicked to the right were saves. I tried putting it to the left. He got a hand on it, but it still went in.”
A little more than a minute later, Gearing was at it again. He took a pass from Jerry Rodriguez and was able to beat Depenbrock with the go-ahead goal at the 5:37 mark.
“Once I scored the PK, I found my groove,” Gearing said.
In the second half, the goalies for each team took center stage. Depenbrock made numerous spectacular saves to keep his team within striking distance, as he was peppered with shots for a good chunk of the 40-minute period.
“It gives me a good feeling to know he’s in the back, he’s going to give you 100 percent, and he’s going to make a lot of saves,” Trujillo said. “He brings a lot of confidence to everybody in front of him.”
Roddy, meanwhile, didn’t face the volume of shots of his counterpart, but had to be at his best for two in particular.
With 19:30 to play, a scrum resulted in a loose ball bounding toward the Sterling goal and a 1-on-1
chance for L-P forward Joan Garcia. Roddy came out to meet him, and Garcia’s shot barely missed to the left of the goal.
Six minutes later came Roddy’s masterpiece. Aguilar uncorked a bicycle kick from about 15 yards, and got a lot of foot on the ball. Roddy deflected the ball into the air, but it kept trickling toward the goal. He then had to dive to save it, just before it crossed the line for the tying goal.
That was the best chance L-P had to score the rest of the game. Sterling, meanwhile, kept hammering away, and finally broke through with 33.9 seconds to play on a goal from Adrian Herrera. It was his fifth of the season, and Alex Marquez assisted on the play.
The insurance goal allowed the Warriors some breathing room in the final moments, but Cebula would have liked to have put it away earlier.
“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot,” he said. “We had over 20 good shots and were only able to finish three, so that’s not a good enough percentage for us.”