INDEPENDENCE—It took about 20 minutes for Independence’s offense to find its stride in Thursday’s non-conference showdown with Garfield Heights. Once the Blue Devils got into rhythm they lit up the scoreboard in a 9-0 win over the Bulldogs at Alumni Field in Stan Skoczen Stadium.
Nate Wells scored his first three goals of the season and Sam Belitz added two to give the Blue Devils a 5-0 lead at halftime. Christian Streibel scored twice and Justin Bernstein and Seamus Kral each found the net once in the second half to close out the scoring.
“For a while at the beginning, I was getting a little nervous,” said Independence coach Ryan MacRaild. “I knew that we had the skill but we needed to get back to playing our way and we weren't doing that. That was forcing us into situations where we had to play in ways we weren’t really comfortable with. Once we got settled down and got back into the game and started moving the ball the way we were used to doing it helped.”
Wells opened the scoring in the third minute when he finished off a pass from Christian Seif.
It took 22 minutes for the Blue Devils to score again. That’s when Belitz converted on a penalty kick to make it 2-0.
Wells headed in a pass from Adam Liebal with 13:30 and Belitz scored with six minutes left off an Elek McDonald assist. Wells found the net two minutes later to notch his first hat trick of the season.
“Those were his first three goals of the season so far as a forward,” MacRaild said of Wells. “Luckily we haven't needed him to score but now that he has I think that's going to take the lid off his game and he'll be able to contribute. He did a nice job tonight finishing.”
The goals came fast and furious for the Blue Devils in the second part of the first 40 minutes.
“There's always that play to the level of your competitor quote which we try not to do,” MacRaild said. “Garfield Heights has a lot of good athletes on their team and I think we were stunned at first. They played good 1v1 defense and they were organized and communicated well. They just kind of ran out of gas and we were able to take advantage of that. Eventually the guys kind of locked in and started doing the things we're good at and it resulted in some goals.”
Belitz assisted on Bernstein’s second half goal and Streibel scored at 28:52 and 26:45. Kral closed out the scoring with 10:44 left to play.
MacRaild was pleased by the performance of his reserve squad in the second half.
“That's our reserve squad and they play against (the varsity) every day,” he said. “The improvement and growth they have shown from the end of July until now is incredible. They move fast on the field and play good possession soccer that we're trying to teach. I'm pleased to be able to get them in and get some varsity playing time against older kids, not just another JV team. That's just going to help us in the future.”
Independence, which improved to 4-1 overall, travels to rival Cuyahoga Heights on Tuesday.