MERRITT ISLAND – It was the kind of early-season matchup that would tell the Viera Hawks just how good they can be this season.
Pretty dang good.
The Hawks dominated the first half against the host Merritt Island Mustangs, scoring twice in the first 40 minutes and eventually going on to win 2-1.
It was the first time Viera has beaten the Mustangs in coach Nick Robinson’s seven years with the Hawks and, according to MaxPreps, it’s just the second time Viera has beaten Merritt Island in program history. The last time was in 2012.
“It’s a good way to start the season, especially away from home at this place,” Robinson said. “I can’t imagine they’ve lost many games here at all in (Merritt Island coach) Scooty (Carey’s) 25 years.
“Coming in here and being in the game is one thing. I felt like we were the better team tonight and I would have been pretty disappointed if we didn’t win based on all the chances we had. But again, you come away from a place like this (winning) 2-1, you’ve got to be happy, especially to start the season.”
Yordan Torres and Alex Bennett, both new to the Hawks this season, scored the goals for Viera (2-0). Merritt Island (1-2) played much better in the second half, scoring its goal on a header off a corner kick.
Last year’s matchup ended in a 2-2 tie in a game that saw Merritt Island dominate the Hawks for 77 minutes only to have Viera score twice in the closing three minutes.
Viera would go on to win a regional championship and earn a trip to the final four. This year’s team not only wants another crack at the state semifinal, it has its eyes on the ultimate prize.
That’s why Tuesday’s game was important for the Hawks to show how they measure up against a Merritt Island program that has always been one of the best in Brevard County.
What’s more, just because the Hawks won didn’t mean they were completely happy with how they played.
“It’s great to come away with a win,” Viera senior co-captain Conner Floyd said. “But at the same time, we had several times in the first half, we had chances on corners. I think Nick said we had 11 corner (kicks) and we have to capitalize on those. We have to finish those headers. We skyed at least two or three shots that … it can come back and bite us as we know.
“Definitely, it’s not the best to concede a goal off an open man on a corner. But at the same time, we have to learn from those and move forward.”
If there is one thing Floyd will be stressing to his teammates this season, it’s to always stay hungry.
“Never be satisfied. That’s what I’m really big on and tell the boys – continue to take this game as a learning lesson, continue to improve and just get better by the game,” he said.
Viera certainly had its chances in the first half, either on set plays or in the flow of play. Gabe Shelton hit a rocket toward the goal but Merritt Island goalkeeper Jace Parks was able to deflect the ball over the bar for a brilliant save.
Finally, after Parks tried clearing the ball with a long kick, the Hawks were able to get control of the ball when Max Walker kicked it to Gabe Shelton, who sent it up the field to Yorgen Torres.
With two men on him, Yorgen Torres worked across to his left and found his brother, Yorden Torres, who beat his man and then got off a shot with his left foot that found the back of the net.
Viera’s second goal came with just under three minutes left in the half. Floyd had a long throw into the box that was headed out by Merritt Island. But the ball went right to Bennett’s chest and as it fell to the ground, he got off a shot that found the left corner of the goal.
Viera goalkeeper Alvey Kaufman wasn’t challenged much in the first half, but when the Mustangs were trying to come up with the game-tying goal in the second half, the sophomore and his defenders were up to the task.
It was a complete turnaround from last year’s matchup between the two teams when it was Merritt Island that dominated much of the night … and that’s just what the Hawks were going for.
“I think we definitely wanted to put last year’s first half right,” Robinson said. “We spoke about that a little bit, just making sure we came here and understood that one, we had to compete, but (also) we had to raise that level a little bit, knowing it’s Merritt Island.”
The Hawks certainly did that.
Viera is scheduled to return to action Friday night at 7 at home against Vero Beach.