Sports often mirrors life. Just as in life, in soccer at some point there has to be renewal. Legends like Newman, Popovic, Tozer, etc. are eventually followed by younger coaches. The match-up between the Heat and Ambush showcases such renewal. The Heat are led by former standout Pat Healey who began the transition from player to coach by going out in style, winning three consecutive championships with the Blast. The Ambush likewise are led by Hewerton, who was a standout for many years, primarily with the Wave. Hewerton is still listed as a player/coach but has been primarily focused on his role as the man behind the bench.
I spoke with Hewerton in the lead up to last Saturday’s clash and he was very enthusiastic about his young team’s progress this season. “I am definitely proud of them,” said Hewerton when discussing his team. “Guys are starting to create good habits and are becoming a solid team. It’s been fun.”
This was a non-divisional game for the Ambush but one they could ill afford to drop. The Ambush did not get off to a good start in this one in front of a subdued Saturday night home crowd. The Heat took a well-deserved lead after a nice bit of interplay a mere 2:27 into the affair. With only 1:34 left in the quarter Ambush keeper Paulo Nascimento was called for handling the ball outside the box. Paulo stopped Nelson Santana on the resulting penalty shootout, but that reprieve would be short-lived as the Heat would convert on the ensuing power play when, with only seven seconds left, Dominic Francis put the Heat up 2-0 with a shot from near the top of the arc off a pass from Santana.
If the first quarter was bad for the home side the second quarter was worse. The Heat were definitely the team playing on the front foot as they extended their lead to 5-0 before a stunned home crowd. The Ambush would finally respond with 2:39 left in the half when Felipe Silva’s shot took a deflection and wrong-footed Heat goalkeeper Matt Perrella before nestling in behind him. Lucas Almeida would earn the assist.
The feeling that the Ambush were now back into this one would be fleeting as the Heat would extend their lead to 6-1 on a Ricardo Carvalho breakaway, his 17th goal of the season. Healey’s boys would knock in another with just 12 seconds left in the half to make it 7-1 at the half. On a night when the city of St. Louis was hosting the second biggest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States it was literally the Heat who were the ones dancing at the Family Arena.
It is said that a two-goal lead is the most dangerous in sports. There is a reason why nobody ever says a six-goal lead is dangerous — because it is not. The Ambush did show a pulse in the third quarter as they scored three straight goals to cut the lead to 7-4.
A potentially pivotal moment occurred with 3:46 left in the quarter when this time the Heat keeper was called for handling the ball outside the box. Just like Santana in the first quarter Clayton Matheus was unable to convert the penalty shootout. Unlike the Heat, the Ambush were unable to convert on the power play either. It was a better quarter for the Ambush but they still found themselves down 7-4 heading into the final stanza.
The Ambush held most of the possession in the final quarter as they employed the sixth attacker and the Heat seemed content to defend their big lead and save energy for their game in Kansas City, which was less than 24 hours away. For the Heat it was a tactical luxury that their first half blitzkrieg had afforded them. The visitors would add to their lead with a power play goal with 2:31 remaining to extend their lead to 8-4. The Ambush would get a goal from JT Thomas with 1:18 to close out the scoring and give the Heat a 8-5 road win. Harrisburg was full volume for their first road win off the season.
After the game Ambush assistant coach Mark Litton was visibly frustrated. “We were present for the first half but we did not show up,” Litton said.
Hewerton echoed his assistant’s sentiments. The Ambush bench boss felt that maybe some of the young players on the team were looking ahead to the next day’s match up with the Milwaukee Wave and maybe looked past a Heat team that had yet to win on the road.
What should give Ambush fans reason to be optimistic is that Hewerton is pleased with the team’s growth this year but still wants to see more from his young charges. It is obvious in talking with the young coach that the same hunger that brought him success on the field will lead him to success behind the bench. It’s become cliche for new coaches to talk about creating or changing a culture, but it is clear that is what Hewerton, Litton, and fellow assistant Jamie Swanner are doing in the STL.