What hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for Polk County’s boys soccer team seemed to take an even more unfortunate turn Monday evening.
Midway through the second half of the Wolverines’ Senior Night clash with East Rutherford, forward Elliot Whiteside sprinted down the far sideline at G.M. Tennant Stadium, looking to lead an offensive surge. Suddenly Whiteside collapsed on the field, holding his right knee.
Polk County athletic trainer Glenn Preslar raced across the pitch, with head coach Josh Trejo close behind. After a few minutes, Whiteside was helped back to Polk’s side of W.J. Miller Field.
The score at the time, 1-1. Moments later, East Rutherford scored the tiebreaking goal, then added two more in the next 10 minutes to claim a 4-1 victory in a Mountain Foothills 7 Conference match.
The good news after the match – and most important point – was that Whiteside was walking without aid, and Polk staff members felt the injury might not be serious. The lengthy break and concern for a fallen teammate, though, certainly seemed to slow the momentum Polk had created until the stoppage.
“After the injury, the game had a whole momentum shift,” Trejo said. “When things are clicking, any time you have a pause to stop the game, it really changes things up.”
For most of the first 55 minutes, the Wolverines (3-12-1, 3-8) kept pace with the Cavaliers (11-6, 8-4), who concluded their season with a third-place conference showing.
Whiteside set up the first goal of the match, taking a pass near the Wolverine sideline, cutting back toward midfield and chipping a pass through four East Rutherford defenders. Evan Jones won a footrace for Whiteside’s pass and directed a low rolling kick that just slipped inside the far post for a 1-0 Polk lead in the 31st minute.
East Rutherford answered less than two minutes later, though, as Sergio Merida, East’s all-time leading scorer, snared a high pass and found himself alone in the penalty area at point-blank range. Merida’s hard drive ripped into the back of the net to even the match at 1.
The teams largely settled into a back-and-forth pattern from then until Whiteside’s injury. The Cavaliers scored shortly thereafter off a corner kick that Polk failed to clear, the ball bouncing in a maze of feet until Angel Suazo tapped it home. Zander McKinney and Merida added goals in the ensuing seven minutes.
“I’m really proud of our seniors,” Trejo said. “Some of them played a good bit more than they’re used to, but we held our own against a good, good team.”
Polk County closes its regular season on Wednesday, hosting Brevard in a 6 p.m. conference match that will also be shown live on NFHS Network.