Celts defeat North Salem in first COVID-19-era contest

McNary midfielder Nic Heath dribbles past a North Salem player in the Celtics 2-0 victory on Monday, March 1 (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

For an entire calendar year, McNary High School did not host a sporting event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that streak finally came to an end on Monday, March 1.

Nic Heath and Eddie Martinez each notched goals in the first half as the McNary boys’ soccer team took down North Salem by a score of 2-0. But what was more important to the kids was not the final score, it was that they once again got the chance to play the game they love with their friends and teammates. 

“It feels like we’re alive. Even though you couldn’t see their faces through the masks, the kids were smiling and so joyous to be out there. It gave us a sense of normality,” McNary head coach Miguel Camarena said. 

“It’s just nice to be out here playing with everybody,” Heath added. 

The Celtics missed on a few opportunities to score in the first 15 minutes of the contest, including whiffing on a point-blank shot with the keeper out of position. But in the 18th minute, McNary executed a beautiful set-piece for the first goal of the season. 

Manuel Avendano was awarded a free-kick 40 yards away from the net and sent a high ball into the middle of the box. Eli Petilo was able to elevate over the crowd to get the first touch by heading the ball to his right. Heath got in position to play the touch, torqued his head as he leapt in the air and sent a header unto the upper left-hand corner of the net for the score. 

“I saw the ball coming in after Eli got a hit on it, so I jumped and got the header on it. It felt good to score the first goal,” Heath said. 

North Salem, on the other hand, didn’t get their first shot-on-goal until the 22nd minute mark but the attempt sailed over the post. 

The Vikings got a pair of better looks at the net in the final 10 minutes of the first half but Celtics keeper Miguel Orduna got back-to-back saves to turn North Salem away. 

In the 37th minute, Martinez got in on the scoring to give the Celtics a little insurance before the break. 

Senior defender Finiasi Washikala got a steal near the back line and sprinted up the right side while keeping his dribble. After he was finally cut off by a North Salem defender Washikala crossed the ball to his left over to Martinez, who battled for possession of the ball and sent in a shot that bounced off the right post and into the back of the net.

“When you practice what you put into the game, that is what makes coaches happy,” Camarena said.

With a two-goal lead at the break McNary was able to send an extra defender to the back line in the second half to try and limit the Vikings chances to cut into the lead. 

“The second goal was a game-changer. Having the 2-0 lead, I think, relaxed the team,” Camarena said. 

North Salem had a handful of opportunities to score in the second half but struggled to get any penetration against the McNary defense.

“It made us be able to tighten up on defense. They had a couple good looks, but they didn’t get through,” McNary defender Jose Martinez said about playing with a two-score lead. 

As a program that prides itself on clean sheets Camarena was glad to see a goose egg on the scoreboard for the visiting team at the end of 60 minutes. 

“There are a lot of things that we have to correct, but to not allow any goals was big. We saw a lot of positive things,” Camarena said.

The Celtics host Sprague on Monday, March 8 at 7:30 p.m. and are hoping that the momentum of this victory will carry them forward into next week. 

“It’s definitely different but it feels amazing to be back,” Jose Martinez said. “I feel like the way we played will really set the tempo for the rest of the season.”