LAKEWOOD RANCH — Ryan Sollazzo doesn’t have all the right moves.
By his own admission, the Lakewood Ranch High forward isn’t known for his fancy footwork or individual skill set. But, what Sollazzo might lack in mechanics, he more than makes up for in speed.
Sollazzo has been using his speed to exploit defenses all season, and last Wednesday night’s Class 4A-District 11 championship versus Manatee proved no different.
The Mustangs started strong in the first half; players pushed the ball up the field to Sollazzo.
At that point, it was up to Sollazzo to break down the Hurricanes’ defense and put the Mustangs on the scoreboard.
“The whole idea was to just keep sending it to the front,” coach Vito Bavaro says. “We knew Sollazzo was faster than their defenders, and the whole idea was to get one-on-one with those guys and send the ball through. If we could do that, we thought we had a pretty good chance to knock the ball in.”
Lakewood’s game plan worked to near perfection. Sollazzo scored a pair of goals in the first half to power the Mustangs to a 2-1 victory Jan. 25.
“We wanted to get on the board and score first and put the pressure on them,” Bavaro says. “They’re a good team, and we’re a good team. We’re the two best teams in Manatee County, and hopefully we’ll see them in a couple of weeks.”
Lakewood got on the scoreboard 19 minutes into the first half when Sollazzo scored off a missed shot that rebounded off the Hurricanes’ goalkeeper and off an assist from sophomore midfielder Jake Dube.
“The first 20 minutes is the most important,” Sollazzo says. “That was our chance right there.”
Sollazzo scored again less than a minute later off an assist from senior midfielder Jimmy Jaime.
“The first goal usually gets your adrenaline pumping, so you’re faster and just ready for more,” Sollazzo says. “It’s a lot easier to score two goals back-to-back then it is to score goals at separate times.”
It was Sollazzo’s second two-goal match in as many games. Sollazzo also scored a pair of goals in the Mustangs’ 4-0 district semifinal victory over rival Braden River Jan. 23.
“He’s got a tremendous amount of speed and a lot of heart,” Bavaro says of Sollazzo.
Manatee responded when Carlos Reyes found the back of the net about nine minutes before halftime.
From that point on, the Mustangs were focused on keeping the Hurricanes from tying the game. Senior midfielder Jason Ferguson dropped back to play defense in the second half.
“It wasn’t on us to score goals at this point,” Bavaro says. “We just had to hold them. I would’ve liked to have one more (goal). Two would’ve been better. But, with that one-goal lead in a district tournament like this — one goal is all you need.
“Luck was on our side today, and I’ll take luck over skill any time of the week,” Bavaro says. “I’m proud of the boys. We’re looking forward to a deep (regional run).”
With the win, Lakewood played host to District 12 runner-up Naples Gulf Coast in a Region 3 quarterfinal match Jan. 30. The winner will play the winner of the quarterfinal between Manatee and Barron Collier in the regional semifinals Feb. 2.
Contact Jen Blanco at email@example.com.