Greater Atlanta Christian’s Nash Wagnon (9), Davis Bryan (19) and Nate Ream (15) go up for the header against Union County during the first round of boys soccer state playoffs in Norcross Thursday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
NORCROSS — It was all about patience.
Union County stacked 10 soccer players back in its defensive third against top-ranked powerhouse Greater Atlanta Christian, often cramming eight within the penalty box. The tactic wasn’t going to produce much offense — Union’s lonely striker rarely touched the ball — but the idea was to cut down the Spartans’ room to work and create shots.
It worked to keep the match close in the early going, but not for long.
After a mostly uneventful first half, GAC broke down the defense late in the first half for a five-goal lead and then the reserves finished off a 10-0 victory in the first round of the Class AA boys playoffs. Ryan Marcano scored four goals for the victors, while Nash Wagnon had a goal and two assists.
The Spartans (19-0) have gotten used to the defensive-minded game plan from opponents, something they usually see a handful of times a season, mostly against overmatched opponents.
“I just felt like we wanted to manage the game,” GAC boys coach Thom Jacquet said. “We were glad to score some goals, get some guys out, give everybody a chance to play and get to the second round. … We’re so used to playing against high level teams. We’ve kind of figured it out that some teams play us this way.
“We’re patient. We figure the goals will come and they do. We don’t get angry or frustrated. A couple of teams have played us that way and we’ve unlocked it and scored goals. … Sometimes teams will play us that way. But those guys (on Union) played hard.”
GAC misfired badly on most of its early shots and had a goal in the 13th minute called back for offside. Ryan Yates lofted a shot from the right wing that floated over the Union goalkeeper’s head in the 16th minute, finally breaking the 0-0 tie.
The score stayed that way until GAC took control with four goals in the last seven minutes of the first half. Wagnon scored in the 33rd minute with low blast, taking advantage of a nice push forward by George Winfrey, and Wagnon then assisted a Marcano goal in the 38th minute.
The Spartans then reeled off two goals in the final minute of the half, the first when Justin Phan pounded in a rebounded shot by Wagnon and the second when Wagnon found Marcano for a goal with just three seconds left in the first half.
“It was a small sense of relief (when the goals started coming), like it’s about time. OK, here it comes,” Jacquet said. “That’s what it’s like usually, you break the ice and here they come.”
Marcano scored two more goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half, building a 7-0 lead that allowed Jacquet to bring in a lineup entirely made up of reserves.
The substitutes did their part, too. Nate Ream scored off a Sebastian Gomez assist, Hudson Kuipers scored off a pass from Ream and Drew Shumard scored the 10th goal that ended the match by mercy rule with 1:57 left.
Marius Heislitz and Jake Doiron each played a half at goalkeeper to share the shutout, but neither was tested or even faced a shot.
GAC advances to play the Murray County-Chattahoochee County winner in the second round.