Royal Palm Beach High School’s boys varsity soccer team made school history when the squad won the Florida High School Athletic Association’s (FHSAA) Class 7A, District 11 tournament for the second straight year on Tuesday, Jan. 30.
For the Wildcats to win the tournament final against John I. Leonard High School, it took 80 minutes of regulation play, two 10-minute extra-time sessions and then penalty kicks.
“This is the first time in school history that the boys soccer team has won two straight district titles,” said Eric Patterson, athletic director at RPBHS.
But for this historic district-winning moment to become official, it required a converted penalty kick by senior Matias Ayala, who was not a season-long starter. The decision by RPBHS head coach Malik Hasan to insert Ayala in the all-important fifth penalty kick slot was based on Hasan’s gut feeling.
“He was the last player to make the team after our final cut last fall. Before this year, he had only played junior varsity soccer,” Hasan said. “But every time he played in a game this year, he played hard and played well. I was confident that he would make the kick. And he was confident, too.”
When Ayala walked to the penalty spot, everybody’s eyes were on him. Both of Ayala’s eyes were on the ball. Everybody on the field and in the grandstands knew that Ayala’s kick could be the game-winning and district-clinching kick. Hasan stood by himself, more than 50 yards away from Ayala. Hasan had said all that needed to be said prior to the penalty kick shootout. It was time for the players to do their thing and put the ball in the back on the net.
Prior to his kick, three of Ayala’s teammates had successfully converted penalty kicks, and one teammate’s PK was saved by John I. Leonard’s goalkeeper. As for John I. Leonard, they made two PKs, one was saved by Royal Palm Beach goalkeeper Daniel Felipe De Royas, and one missed as it struck the cross bar. That put the PK score at 3-2 in favor of Royal Palm Beach. If Ayala made the kick, the game is over with Royal Palm Beach winning both the game and the district title. If Ayala’s kick missed the target or was saved, the penalty kick shootout would continue.
As Ayala was waiting for the whistle from the center referee, his focus remained on the ball in front of him. Soon after the whistle was blown, Ayala approached the ball and then did a quick stutter-stop move. That caused John I. Leonard’s goalkeeper to lean to his right, so Ayala kept moving toward the spot where the ball was sitting and kicked to the goalkeeper’s left.
As soon as the ball found the back of the net, every member of Royal Palm Beach’s team charged onto the field and surrounded Ayala. Game over. Royal Palm Beach won, 4-3, on penalty kicks.
Hasan raised his arms in jubilation — his young squad had repeated as district champions.
“When I take a penalty kick, I always do the same thing because I want to see which way the goalkeeper is leaning,” Ayala said. “He leaned to his right, so I kicked the ball to the keeper’s left.”
With that victory, the Wildcats earned a bid in the FHSAA’s Class 7A state playoff series. The Wildcats are the fourth seed in Region 3. On Tuesday, Feb. 13, they will host the Eagles from Port St. Lucie’s Centennial High School in the regional quarterfinal.
If the Wildcats win, they will play either Boca Raton High School or John I. Leonard High School in the Region 3 semifinal on Friday, Feb. 16. If Royal Palm Beach and Boca Raton both win, the Wildcats will travel to Boca Raton. If Royal Palm Beach and Leonard win, it will be a rematch of the district finale hosted by Royal Palm Beach. After the regional semifinals, the regional final will be held Wednesday, Feb. 21.
Whichever team wins the Region 3 final will advance to the Class 7A state finals, which will be held in late February and early March at Spec Martin Stadium in DeLand.
PBCHS Soccer Boys Receive FHSAA Bid — The Palm Beach Central High School (7-1-4) boys soccer team is also in the same Class 7A draw. The Broncos, who lost to John I. Leonard on penalty kicks in the district semifinals, earned a spot in the state playoffs by virtue of the team’s strong position in the rankings. Just like Royal Palm Beach, Palm Beach Central will play its Region 3 quarterfinal match on Tuesday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. The Broncos will go on the road against Celebration High School. If the Broncos win, they will stay on the road and play in the semifinals at Jupiter High School or Olympic Heights High School. The winner of the semifinal will advance to the Class 7A, Region 3 final on Wednesday, Feb. 21.