SHARON HILL >> The white “6” plastered on the back of Diego Lopez’s black Interboro jersey doesn’t tell as much about the player as you’d imagine.
For Lopez, the number isn’t the position signifier it once was in the game of soccer. Instead, it’s an homage to his soccer idol, Andres Iniesta, the squat, magic-footed midfielder of Barcelona and Spain fame.
Lopez’s game doesn’t much resemble Iniesta’s, which he freely concedes.
“Yeah,” Lopez was saying Tuesday night, “but I’m trying.”
The many facets of Lopez’s game were on display Tuesday, helping the Bucs accumulate, then hold on for dear life to, a 3-2 win over Academy Park.
Lopez’s first-half goals bookended a Guillermo Ramirez tally, putting the Bucs (8-4, 4-1 Del Val) up 3-0 after 37 minutes.
But AP charged back, courtesy of a pair of Kho Tuang goals on either side of the break to cut the deficit to 3-2 in the 43rd minute.
Part of the Bucs’ strategy to hold on to that lead involved Lopez channeling his inner Iniesta, dropping deeper in midfield to help keep possession and stifle a Knights side that controlled play for long stretches of the game. Instead of the hectic ping-pong played with possession at times in the first half, Lopez injected a welcome dose of calm.
“He brings a lot of confidence,” defender Dom Scrivano said of Lopez. “He knows what he’s doing, too, and he knows where to put it and when to put it there. He’s really good with the ball, and he’s really confident.”
Lopez also brings plenty of goals, 13 on the season and 61 in his three years at Interboro, a school record he eclipsed earlier this season as just a junior.
His first was a quintessential Lopez finish — of the ilk often produced by someone wearing a big No. 9 on his back.
With AP (6-7, 2-3) enjoying the better of play, Lopez latched onto a long ball from the back and kept up with the bounding ball through a couple of defenders that he shrugged off. Lopez got the shot wrong as AP goalie Amadou Fofana rushed off his line, but he made enough contact to send the ball knuckling into the open cage.
“I know if they make a mistake, I can score the first one,” Lopez said.
Ramirez’s goal was simple and straightforward, the midfielder rising unmarked to power home a header off Joey Pitts’ corner-kick delivery. Ramirez then laid off a pass to Lopez for the poacher’s second tally, a scrum in the box where Fofana bobbled a throw-in that led to a chaotic scramble.
At that point, AP could’ve packed it in, but it didn’t. And the spark was Tuang.
Interboro’s offside trap was working near perfectly in the first half. The Knights were flagged offside 11 times in the opening 40 minutes and 17 on the game, the Bucs’ high line nullifying the mis-timed speed of forwards like Tahjay Swaby and Owen Ede, who spent a frustrating evening in dialogue with the referees.
“I picked up on their outside runs,” said the center back Scrivano. “They have very fast players on the outside, and I recognized that, so I told my outside backs, look up for me and I’ll keep the line for us. I know the referee was calling it, so every time I would see one of them off, I would tell everybody to push up as the ball was coming in so they would be trapped.”
Tuang, though, managed to find the right runs, the shifty forward sitting in the pocket of space between the center backs and timing his diagonal bursts forward more adeptly.
“Before I came into the game, my coach told me to stay in the middle,” Tuang said. “That spot is always open. If they can chip the ball over, I can get it.”
Lansana Doumbouya did the chipping just before half, with Tuang lashing a shot home. Tuang, who was unlucky not to draw a penalty kick on the stroke of halftime when goalie Brandon Welden crashed into him in the box, tallied his second early in the second half, this time finding the pace to catch up with a long ball from defender James Samura.
Both teams had their chances to sway the final outcome. Welden, who finished with seven saves and denied Tuang with a sensational double stop just before the second goal, was beaten by Clarence Koboi’s low drive from outside the box in the 55th, but it skittered agonizingly wide of the post. Pitts had a chance to end the game in the final minute, but Fofana (nine saves) dove to his left to push it around the post with his fingertips.
In the Inter-Ac League:
Episcopal Academy 2, Penn Charter 0 >> Peter Le Roux picked a fine time for his first varsity goal, set up by Nick Wallick, and Quinn Dudek added a penalty kick for the Churchmen. Matt Freese made five shots in goal as EA (8-3, 2-0) continued its fast league start with its fifth shutout of the season.
Springside Chestnut Hill 2, Haverford School 0 >> Will Baltrus made two saves, but the Fords (3-5-3, 0-1-1) couldn’t find a breakthrough despite a 14-6 edge in shots.
In the Central League:
Radnor 4, Springfield 1 >> Ryan Peter scored and set up Ben Verbofsky’s goal, Jack Miller converted a penalty kick and Andrew Boujoukos also scored for the Raiders. Jake Proctor grabbed a consolation tally for the Cougars.
In nonleague action:
Strath Haven 3, Penn Wood 1 >> Peter Foggo, Jon Kadoch and Henry Wolgast scored first-half goals, two set up by Harrison Hotham, as the Panthers rolled.
Christian Academy 5, Tri-State Christian 0 >> Jesse Brittain tallied a hat trick to go with an assist, and Grant Sareyka paired his goal with two helpers for the Crusaders (7-2-1).