When Layton Christian Academy Eagles suffered their third and final loss of the season against the Morgan Trojans on April 19, the team struggled to take advantage of its chances, while the Trojans capitalized on every opportunity they had.
Head coach Lucas Almeida stressed to his players that they needed to give more attention to the details in order to finish the chances presented to them.
Three weeks later as the top-seeded Eagles took the field at Rio Tinto Stadium for Wednesday evening’s 3A state championship match, they did what their coach said and focused on the details.
As a result, they ran away with a dominant 4-0 victory over the Real Salt Lake Academy Griffins to take home the school’s first ever championship trophy at the 3A level.
“I told them every time we play in a big game, it’s going to be decided by the details,” Almeida said. “Details are what win us games. Today, we put away (our chances) and (RSL Academy) couldn’t.”
When a team needs to capitalize on its opportunities, it helps having a player like Enzo Jaques.
The senior, who emigrated from Brazil to attend LCA, helped his team finish off the Griffins by scoring a hat trick over the final 19 minutes of gameplay, turning what was a one goal lead into a runaway victory for his side.
All of Jaques’ goals came from the top-center of the 18-yard box, using clinical finishes (though the second goal took a deflection off a defender) to guide the ball into the back of the net.
“I think that God blessed me and put his hand on my head,” Jaques said when asked how he managed to get the hat trick.
“I’m just thankful for everything that has happened to me.”
The three-goal outing gave Jaques a team-high 25 goals on the season.
“That’s the reason why I don’t sub him out,” Almeida said of the Brazilian striker. “We believe in him and he believes in himself a lot.
A player like that doesn’t show up often, so you let those guys play. …He has the skill, but his confidence is up there.”
Felipe Harada notched the opening goal for LCA in the 17th minute with a relentless solo effort that saw him dribble through or around three separate Griffin defenders before knocking the ball into the goal.
Though the final scoreline suggested otherwise, the game was fairly even in terms of generating chances at goal, but the Eagles managed to keep RSL Academy off the board for the team’s 12th clean sheet in 20 games.
Helping that cause was LCA keeper Guilherme Palacio, who had multiple impressive saves throughout the evening, saves that would’ve dramatically changed the outcome of the game if they were not made.
The most monumental save came in the 35th minute, as RSL Academy’s Karl Weisenfeld blasted a volley towards goal only to see Palacio make a leaping save to punch the ball off the frame of the goal.
Almeida heaped praises on not only Palacio, but the rest of the Eagles’ defensive backline.
“No matter what, even if we move things around, they’re consistent,” Almeida said. “They fight alongside each other, they communicate and I wouldn’t switch them for anybody else.”
The Eagles have a player each from Serbia and Costa Rica, but the rest of the players all come from Brazil, and although they come from a rich soccer background, making the move to play in Utah wasn’t always seamless for them.
Jaques said that the physicality with which the game is played in the states was a tough adjustment for both himself and his teammates.
“We had to train a lot,” Jaques said. “We have soccer in our blood, but the guys here are very strong and they train a lot and go to the gym, which is unusual in Brazil where we just play soccer, so we had to train a lot to keep up with both the strength and speed of these players and I think that we deserve to be here.”
Jaques said that he and his teammates get plenty of comments from their opposition suggesting that they shouldn’t be playing here, but he said that those comments don’t bother them anymore.
The players came to LCA to win matches and trophies, and that’s what they got Wednesday evening.
Almeida said that he knew his team had what it took to win the championship match from the beginning of the season.
“We’ve been talking about this game since August, and I’m not even making this up, I said that we’re going to dominate our region and then we’re going to dominate the tournament,” Almeida said.
“We wanted to prove that we’re the best team in Utah, and that was the goal.”