Not a lot was expected from this year’s Lely Boys’ Soccer Team after last season’s dramatic run to the state semi-finals. But week by week the Trojans made believers of their doubters and on Tuesday, February 23, repeated as regional champions with a dramatic 3-1 win over Osceola at Trojan Stadium.
The win over Osceola set up Lely’s return to the state Final Four on Friday, February 26, where they lost 3-1 in overtime to Belen Jesuit in Miami.
“Everybody thought we were done after last season,” said Robbie Schank, Lely’s head coach of 27 years. “After we lost seven players from last year’s regional championship team, nobody thought we’d be here today. These kids believed. They put in the work, and they bought into the program.”
Lely and Osceola played to a scoreless first half in the regional championship game. Osceola, perhaps, was the more spirited team in the opening half.
“We came out flat,” Schank said of his team’s first half effort.
At halftime junior captain, Johnathan Garcia, delivered a passionate speech to his teammates. Then Schank laid out what he expected from his team in the second half.
“We were able to communicate, talk about things at halftime,” Schank said. “Different things we needed to tweak that were adding up. I think everybody came to an understanding of what we needed to do. Then Osceola’s legs got tired. You could see it in the second half. We were able to execute the plan that we had discussed during the last five minutes of halftime. Then we put it into play. They did exactly what I asked of them. I couldn’t be more grateful. They listened and they responded.”
Senior Chris Martinez scored Lely’s first goal with 30:55 left in the game. Lely scored again a minute later on a throw-in goal.
“That’s been our go-to all season long,” Schank said. “Johnathan Garcia, our JG, has been instrumental in getting that ball inside the box. And Chris Martinez had the beautiful header to start it off. We couldn’t be more blessed to do this in front of our fans, on our field, at our school, and to represent Collier County in the state semi-finals.”
Lely (18-6-3) scored first in the state semi-final game against Belen Jesuit (17-3-1).
“We came out ready to play,” Schank said. “Rafael Palacios received a ball from Armando Aya in the air and scored the first goal of the game early in the first half on a bicycle kick.”
The game remained 1-0 with just over 12 minutes left in regulation.
“Jesuit had a quick counter-attack off our corner kick and was able to get a shot off just outside the 18-yard box – it hit the post and deflected into the goal,” Schank said.
With the game tied 1-1 at the end of regulation play, the game went to overtime. In the first 10-minute overtime period, Jesuit scored a questionable goal.
“Jesuit took a shot that hit the cross bar and went out,” Schank said, “but the lines referee must have thought it went inside the goal and came back out and they called it a goal, unfortunately.”
Faced with a desperate situation, Schank was forced to make an aggressive move.
“Being down a goal, I had to try and tie the game to take it to penalty kicks. I brought more players forward and that’s when Jesuit was able to get their third goal.”
But the overtime loss doesn’t diminish what the Trojans were able to accomplish this season.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this team,” Schank said, “earning back-to-back regional championships and making it to the state semi-finals two years in a row – and losing in overtime both times. They left it all on the field and represented their team and school proudly.”
“This team just came together,” Schank said. “All the pieces fell right. I was able to get all the right players in the right positions. We’ve been clicking pretty much all season. We’ve been getting over COVID issues and all the speed bumps all season. Our starting goalkeeper, Rob Petronzio, was out for the whole season. He didn’t come back until the district semi-finals. He was out with a meniscus surgery. Daniel Romero and Victor Orantes, both of those guys, were instrumental in getting us here. Rob’s taken over and he’s doing what he does best.”
“We’re one of the best teams out there right now,” Schank said. “We made history. This was the first time we ever hosted the regional finals and won the regional finals in front of all of our fans. We have Trojan nation out here. We have a big following.”
Could the Trojans pull off a three-peat next season and bring home yet another regional championship?
“Anything is possible,” Schank mused. “Nobody was expecting us to do what we did last year. Only time will tell.”