Cohen Nelson gathered his fifth-seeded Uniondale Knights around him under the lights early Wednesday night. They had just ousted No. 4 Freeport on the Red Devils’ home turf in the Nassau AA boys soccer quarterfinals.
"Job well done," Nelson told his players after the 2-1 win. "Job not yet done."
They were missing their leading scorer, striker Gammanuel Etienne, who was moving to Miami. They were also missing captain Jefferson Pivaral, out with a torn ACL.
But the Knights (8-2-5) scored twice in a 2:07 span of the first half and held on despite several players cramping up in the second half.
"Character," Nelson said. "Like I said to them just now, character plus hard work equals success."
Uniondale used the equation to make Sunday’s semis at Mitchel Athletic Complex against the winner of No. 1 Baldwin vs. No. 8 Syosset Thursday.
"I think everybody fought with heart," senior Edgar Velasquez said.
Without Etienne, they were without a player with 11 goals. But Velasquez moved up from attacking midfielder to replace him and assisted on both goals. Kevin Villacis and Christian Mathurin found the net.
"It says that we’re pretty good," Mathurin said about winning without Etienne. "Although we miss him, we’re going to have to go and win this for him since he’s not here."
The Knights capitalized just 8:04 in for a 1-0 lead after a poor clearance. Villacis beat Gilbert Rosario, kicking it in into the right side of the net.
Then came Mathurin’s goal from in close. The Red Devils (8-4-3) were quickly in a big hole.
"Disappointing end of the season," Freeport coach Craig Klasson said. "No matter what, I’m still proud of my 14 seniors and everything they gave to the program."
One of those seniors, Josue Villeda, scored with 13:46 left in the first half off a left-side cross from Tyree Baskin.
Villeda looked like he was going to tie it when he broke into the box in the second minute of the second half. But defender Carlos Flores was helping out in front of the right side of the goal and deflected the shot away.
"That was the difference in the game," Nelson said.
The Red Devils kept pressing, but goalkeeper Ronald Zavala made six of his seven saves in the second half.
"We’re very confident," Villacis said. "We believe we can take it all."