GREENSBORO — The East All-Stars beat the West 5-2 in soccer, but Mount Airy’s Mitchell Brown was one of the bright spots for his team.
Brown and Jordan Couch, Smoky Mountain, seemed to have the most impact for the West team.
The West team was loaded with 3A and 4A players, but it was the 1A Granite Bear who scored the first goal for the West.
Unlike high school teams which can have 20 or more players on the sideline, the all-star game had 16 players per side.
West was even further short-handed because one player couldn’t make the game and another went out with an injury early in the second half.
With only three reserves, the West team played heavy minutes for all the players.
Brown said he tried to get some running in leading up to this game, but jogging on a track is not the same as soccer conditioning.
“My game fitness was not at its height,” he said with a smile.
On his first touch, Brown sent a pass to a teammate that was off-target. He admitted to feeling some nerves as the first Mount Airy player to take part in this event. After that, Brown was back in the swing of things, making good plays for his teammates.
Nine minutes into the game, Brown made a steal and a touch before sending a long ball up the middle to a streaking D.J. Leslie.
Leslie might have scored the first goal of the game, but he was taken down by a defender without a foul call despite Lumberton’s Bradley Burnette appearing to have the back of Leslie’s jersey in his grasp.
Brown and Couch went out for a breather 15 minutes into the first half.
While the two were on the bench, East broke through with a goal. Then just 70 seconds later, East scored again.
On a shot at the goal, keeper Ben Lucas got in front of the ball, but a defender rushing over to help got tangled up with Lucas and appeared to accidentally knock the ball into his own goal for a 2-0 score.
When Brown and Couch got back into the game, the two hooked up for a score.
“A couple of fresh legs,” Brown said.
West sent a diagonal pass up the left side that Couch chased down near the left sideline.
“He played the ball across, and I knew I’d have to go up and it’d be a 50/50 ball,” said Brown. “The other kid was huge, so I was really going to have to go after this. I ended up beating him to the ball and putting into the side netting.
When he saw the great cross coming toward him, Brown said, “I was pretty excited, I was hoping I’d put it away.”
The score with 18:53 left in the half made it 2-1.
With nine minutes left in the half, Brown made a goal-saving stop in transition.
One East player had the ball in the middle with a teammate on his left. Brown was guarding the left, but had to hedge over to the middle to cut off the ball.
The pass went to the left, and Brown recovered back in time to make a sliding block of a shot toward the left corner of the goal.
After that great hustle play, West coach Andrew Hultberg, Northern Guilford, rested Brown for the rest of the half.
Had Leslie been able to finish his shot, the two teams could well have been tied 2-2 at the break.
Wanting everyone to get playing time, Hultberg started the second half with Brown on the bench.
Brown was on the sideline awaiting a substitution when East scored its third goal. All three goals at that point had been scored with Brown out of the lineup.
Rather than playing his customary spot in the middle, Brown manned the right side for the entire second half. Unfortunately, his teammates weren’t looking for him when he was open.
On one 3-on-3 break, West centered the ball from the left side, and Brown was calling for the ball. Despite Brown being unguarded, Austin Stamey, T.C. Roberson, tried to split a double team and had the ball stolen.
“We struggled to switch it over there,” Brown said of the second half. “We played too small, compacting it over here. The whole game we played way too defensively.”
Give the defense credit, too, he said.
“The level of competition was exponentially better than high school,” he said. Even in practices, he said, “the two that we had were just intense. It was just bang, bang, bang — I was exhausted afterward.”
Despite losing 5-2, Brown said, “I had a blast. I’m really thankful to the NCCA and everybody putting it on. It’s an honor to be part of it and represent Mount Airy High School.” Brown said he was really pleased to finish off his high school soccer career with a goal.
Up next for the soccer standout is playing football for Campbell University. The two-sport star will compete for the starting placekicker role for the Camels.