By Scott Lockwood, SunCoast Sports
Charlotte head coach Alex Lebeau likes to compare soccer matches to heavyweight boxing fights.
Lebeau had hoped his Tarpons squad would land the first punch in Tuesday night’s district matchup against Venice at Powell-Davis Stadium, but thanks to John Ireland, the Indians struck early and often on their way to a 6-1 knockout that kept Venice undefeated so far on the season.
Just seconds after a missed penalty on Venice in the opening moments of the game, the Indians would get the first punch in on Charlotte when John Gokey took a pass from Sam Reese and rifled the ball by Tarpons goalkeeper Jason Gaudemer for the first goal of the night.
Ireland followed that with two goals in the next 20 minutes of play. His first goal came after he weaved his way through heavy traffic in front of the net for a short goal, and he followed that by taking a perfectly placed pass by Even Dietrich in front of the net in the 29th minute.
Charlotte’s Aaron Rivers had a couple of clean shots at the net, only to be turned away by Venice keeper Grant Alexander on both occasions. Jacob Bassett finished the first half with a breakaway goal — the first of his two on the night — for Venice just before the intermission.
“It’s strange that we had some golden opportunities that we didn’t take,” Lebeau said. “If you come out and get that first hit, the other team is always on their heels a bit. Venice kept putting their opportunities in, so it was like punch after punch after punch that we couldn’t get up from Even with that, the guys didn’t quit.”
Charlotte got on the board when Donal Rateau’s shot glanced off the goalpost and past Alexander to open the second half. Venice answered almost immediately when Ireland finished his hat trick with a goal while he was falling backwards in front of the net.
“I wasn’t really thinking of anything else other than just putting the ball in the back of the net,” Ireland said.
Venice’s defense would limit Charlotte to just a couple of more shots over the final 35 minutes on their way to the win.
“We like to come out hot,” said Venice assistant coach Greg Atkin. “If you kill a game early against a team like this when you’re the superior team, you make sure there’s no chance of a fight-back. We got the job done…but it could have been a little better.”
Venice (5-0-1, 2-0-1) will host Sarasota on Thursday and Lakewood Ranch on Friday. Charlotte will play North Port at home on Thursday.