The best plays Davenport Central soccer player Enrique Diaz made for his team was not some fancy move or blasted shot against Muscatine on Thursday.
It was simple hustle and smarts.
Diaz earned a key free kick for his team and also had an assist on a throw-in as the Blue Devils rallied past the Muskies 3-1 in Mississippi Athletic Conference action at Brady Street Stadium.
Central (4-6 overall, 3-3 MAC) looked dead in the water, trailing the visitors 1-0 at halftime and had only one shot on goal. But in the second half, the hosts came out with more energy and showed in Diaz’s play in the 47th minute.
Diaz came up big as a routine rolling ball appeared to be headed out-of-bounds near Muscatine’s goal-line for a goal kick. The senior was being shielded by a Muscatine defender but Diaz fought to gain possession of the ball. While the ball did roll out of play, the line judge awarded Central a free kick for a foul on Diaz.
From about 20 yards out on an angle from the free kick, Nathan Hummel sent in a great cross and Carter Hurst headed in the pass to tie the game at 1-1.
Just 10 minutes later, Diaz used his wits to set up the go-ahead goal.
After a ball went out of play 30 yards into Muscatine’s territory, Diaz quickly grabbed the ball on the sideline and launched a long throw-in to Hummel, who was stationed in the box about 12 yards out. Hummel made a quick turn and fired the shot into the top right corner to put the home team up 2-1.
Hummel closed out the Muskies (7-3, 5-1) with a lightning 30-yard run in the 72nd minute, beating two defenders to score the final goal of the game.
Central coach Franco Munoz said his team responded to his challenge during a halftime meeting but added the Blue Devils wouldn't have won without the key plays from Diaz.
“The thing that impresses me about Enrique is, he plays with heart and soul,” Munoz said. “That is the only way he plays. He out-hustles everybody and he plays with so much passion. We tell our guys, it’s the little things, and plays like that, that win you games. Those little things become big things and Enrique leads by example.
“He is trying to teach the younger guys, because we have a lot of inexperienced players, that time is limited and you have to leave everything out there.”
Diaz said he was trying to give his team a lift after a first half that saw the Muskies outshoot the Blue Devils, 11-1.
“I was hoping to make something happen, running after the ball to maybe cross it in or something,” he said. “I think we needed to play a lot harder in the second half.”
Diaz actually lost the glasses he wears during the game when they broke in the first half after making contact with the ball near his head. His throw-in was spot on to Hummel, who barely had to move before attacking the goal.
“I can see enough,” Diaz said with a laugh about the pass. “But I felt like we had the momentum and I wanted to keep it going.”
Muscatine got on the board when junior Miles Melendez, who had the best overall game for the Muskies, sent in a free kick from about 35 yards out in the 17th minute. The shot got through the hands of Central goalie Jackson Jeyes and hit the crossbar. Jeyes temporarily did not know where the ball was and Jackson Othmer headed in the rebound to put the visitors on top, 1-0.
Melendez nearly tied the game in the 68th minute when he hit another free kick from 30 yards out nearly perfect toward the top left corner. But Blue Devils keeper Deyvin Amador jumped and just got enough of his hand on the ball to make the ball hit the crossbar and bounce away. Amador replaced Jeyes, who left in the second half with an injury, even though Amador is not in the normal goalkeeper rotation.
“Deyvin has been begging me to play some goalie,” Munoz said with a laugh. “But he made a great play for us.”
As for the Muskies, who fell out of a first-place tie with Pleasant Valley with the loss, coach Jose Varela said his team’s effort in the second half was simply not good enough.
“Give credit to Central for coming out strong in the second half but we just had a lack of execution and a lack of focus,” Varela said. “We did not play to our level and we paid the price.”