Keilor Cacho-Garcia possesses the ball in the first half against the Eagles. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Keilor Cacho-Garcia possesses the ball in the first half against the Eagles. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Soccer: Kent-Meridian and Federal Way draw

Johnny Chino-Lopez scores the single goal for the Royals in the game.

After snapping a 43-year state tournament drought, the Kent-Meridian boys soccer team isn’t off on the wrong foot to start the year — but they haven’t quite hit their stride so far in this 2024 campaign.

The Royals danced with another state qualifying team in the Federal Way Eagles for a competitive non-league matchup early in the season. The two sides walked away with a 1-1 draw on March 19, but the Royals felt like they let the game slip away.

“I thought we had tons of opportunities to score, but we just got too disconnected from our defense. My offense could taste it,” said Head Coach Brian Gabert.

Inside the first 10 minutes, the two sides were struggling for real control of the pace and the game. Neither side created a positive chance at a goal until Johnny Chino-Lopez got involved.

The Royals’ front three deployed a bit of a trip outside the 18-yard box where Chino-Lopez took it on his right foot and fired a shot that beat the Federal Way keeper to his left — and gave Kent-Meridian a 1-0 lead in the ninth minute.

“He’s just a creative kid ... He’s so good,” Gabert said.

That little space that Chino-Lopez was able to create was just enough to get a quality shot off and really stunned the Eagles from the first whistle.

Throughout the rest of the first half, Kent-Meridian continued to apply pressure. Delano Valerio was causing a lot of problems for Federal Way’s right wingbacks. Valerio found lots of space and even bounced a shot off the left post, which could have really dampened the sails for Federal Way.

But heading into halftime, Kent-Meridian led 1-0.

The second half was a different story. Federal Way came out with energy and a want to get level in the game. The Eagles were the side with more quality in the second half and were rewarded for being so.

In the 52nd minute, on a free kick, the Eagles drew level, 1-1. Kent-Meridian kept fighting to try and get an advantage, including a peach of an opportunity from Keilor Cacho-Garcia. He was given a ball over the top, and Cacho-Garcia looked to lob the ball over the keeper, but it traveled just outside the post.

Senior “Swiss army knife” Andres Zuluaga was all over the field in the draw. His heat map would be very impressive to look at: “He can do so much,” Gabert said.

At times it felt like the Royals were playing two different opponents — the Eagles and the officials. Midway through the second half, Kent-Meridian had four yellow cards, including Coach Gabert.

“I just didn’t like the pace of the game. It was inconsistent with the ref. I got a yellow card for the first time in forever because my guy got an instant yellow and their guy got a three count. I didn’t understand the three count,” Gabert said.

Testy environments and competition that pushes your buttons creates a different type of atmosphere. But it’s one that can benefit a team if it is used the right way.

“We’re trying to build chemistry, so it doesn’t matter who we play... I like to remind the kids we are building for a long season,” said Gabert.

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Senior Eric Sanchez battles through contact against Federal Way. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Senior Eric Sanchez battles through contact against Federal Way. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Johnny Chino-Lopez points to the sky after scoring the first goal of the game. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Johnny Chino-Lopez points to the sky after scoring the first goal of the game. Ben Ray / The Reporter

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