NICEVILLE – Rob Simon and Michael Denton are two of the best soccer minds in the prep game.
Their teams, Navarre and Niceville, are two of the best crews in the Sunshine State.
That they’re in the same region is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because they bring out the best in each other. A curse because, come playoff time, only one can advance past the region semifinals.
There’s no room for error. No shortage of physicality when the teams meet.
And no small amount of working the refs and in-game adjustments.
Thursday’s 1-1 district draw at Twin Oaks embodied the parity between the teams, who seem to play a year-long chess match. Only pawns were surrendered Thursday, neither team playing their best soccer.
“These two teams, they have a lot of pride and they’re always going to battle,” Simon said. “What they want to accomplish, they’re going to battle all year long. With one little bounce or play here or there, that can be difference. I don’t think either of the goals were the cleanest. One bounced their way and the other went our way.
“It was just two teams that fought tooth and nail and we got a 1-1 draw. That’s the way it work out.”
Like Simon, Denton sees a peer he respects.
“With Rob, he’s always changing things up, I’m always changing things up,” Denton said. “It’s always back and forth. From a pure coaching perspective, he’s fun to coach against because he’s going to make me work. I’m having to adjust to him, he’s having to adjust to me.
What wasn’t fun was the heated moments with the refs, who seemed to struggle with the physicality and were hearing it from both sides.
Simon got a yellow card after a casual conversation with a trainer about a sideline ref, while Denton took exception to the 14-3 foul count in Navarre’s favor.
When the double whistle blew, both coaches were confused as everyone on the sideline had 4-6 minutes left on their game clocks.
Even with the reffing troubles, both would argue they had a great opportunity to steal a win.
Navarre (3-0-2) had two prime chances on attacks in the first minute alone. Seven minutes later, Jocelyn Fernandez took a giveaway just outside the box, made a move to her left netted a left-footer to give the Raiders a 1-0 lead over the Eagles (3-0-2).
In the 18th minute, Kayla Fernandez made a couple of moves on the left side and put a cross into the box that Ashley Frank took high out of the air and over the top of keeper Emily Depersio for the goal.
One-all, tie game headed into halftime. No other goals would be scored. But that wasn’t for lack of opportunities.
At halftime, Simon preached possessing, settling down and utilizing the midfield instead of just sending deep balls and hoping a forward could track them down. He also wanted his defense to do a better job on Fernandez, Frank and Mia Sadler, who had their way generating attacks.
On the other sideline, Denton also preached possession and wanted his team to neutralize Navarre’s speed and make the clears on defense clean. He wanted to keep the pressure on Navarre’s defense and keep the ball on the ground on attacks.
Both teams excelled defensively in the second half. But they both also missed point-blank opportunities for the win.
“It’s frustrating, but that’s the reality of a sport like this,” Denton said. “You have a couple of moments, and either you capitalize on that moment or you don’t. Neither team capitalized in the second half.”
Tied in district play at 2-0-1 each, the decider for a top seed will likely come down to a tiebreaker if both run the table. But there’s a lot of soccer to be played.