KIPP falls to Salem Academy in battle of undefeated teams

KIPP Panthers goalie Cris Rodriguez made seven saves during Wednesday's game. (COURTESY PHOTO )

SALEM — The Panthers couldn’t get much going offensively as the KIPP Academy boys soccer team lost its first game of the season 2-0 to Salem Academy Wednesday night at Irzyk Park.

“Salem Academy, I’ll give them all of the credit in the world they’re a really good team,” KIPP head coach Jon Langlois said. “We just didn’t want it today it was clear and evident.

“We couldn’t break through their defense,” Langlois added. “We have struggled all season with creating in the midfield. We are a sound defensive team that capitalizes on opportunities in the attack but in the midfield we struggle and today it came back to bite us.”

Salem Academy’s defensive game was centered around shutting down KIPP’s top offensive player, Angel Hernandez.

“They man-marked our best player, Angel Hernandez,” Langlois said. “They shut him down and that is exactly what we needed to do to their best scorer (Michael Santana) but we couldn’t capitalize on that opportunity.”

“He’s definitely a special player,” Salem Academy coach Bryan Lee said of Hernandez. “He’s a guy who has scored a lot of goals and had received a lot of attention from other teams. So we decided, ‘Hey let’s see if we can make somebody else beat us.’ We were able to kind of take him out of the game and that’s what we wanted to do.”

The Navigators’ defense was led by senior goaltender Qasim El-Ashkar, who made several key stops in the shutout.

“He is a super vocal leader and really just a general in the back,” Lee said of El-Ashkar. “He is able to organize us and keep us locked down defensively. He is a big reason why we have gave up so few goals this year, especially in a game like today where we were able to keep a shutout. It couldn’t have worked out better he really crushed it.”

One of the several scoring chances the Panthers were able to create on the afternoon came in the first few minutes of the game. Jorge Zapata carried the ball into the Salem Academy box and sent a long pass cross field intended for Alejandro Campos. However, El-Ashkar jumped in front of the loose ball before Campos could get a shot off.

A few minutes later, a throw-in pass by Santana traveled all the way across the Panthers’ box before Wesoly Hanger found the loose ball and ripped a shot to put Salem Academy ahead 1-0.

Later on in the second half, Santana gained possession just inside KIPP’s half of the field and after gaining some ground ripped a hard shot that slipped by Panthers starting goalkeeper Cris Rodriguez (seven saves) and extended Salem Academy’s lead to 2-0.

The Panthers had one more shot to get on the board in the closing minutes on a free kick by Wellington Gonzalez, but the Navigators quickly shut down the chance and held on to the 2-0 victory. KIPP backup keeper Osahon Airewele made two saves.

Salem Academy (6-0-3) travels to Prospect Hill Academy while KIPP (5-1-1) travels to East Boston for another Massachusetts Charter School Athletic Organization game against Excel Academy Friday (6:15).

“They are another quality team,” Langlois said of Excel Academy. “We beat them 3-2 in the first game. We are looking forward to the second game and hopefully bouncing back with a pretty strong effort after this loss. It will be tough but we will regroup and hopefully bounce back.”

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