Leading 1-0 in the 55th minute of Wednesday night's victory over the Charlotte Eagles at Christian Heritage School, the Dalton Red Wolves used skill and spacing to pick apart the Eagles and score an important second goal in the soccer match.
After beautiful combination play on the ground that saw 15 consecutive passes completed among Red Wolves players, Dalton's Jon Finlay found teammate Josh Cash with a lofted ball into the box. Cash leapt in the air and scored with a glancing header over the outstretched hands of the Charlotte goalkeeper. The Red Wolves went on to win 3-0.
That goal, and the buildup to the finish, was what Red Wolves' coach Drew Courtney has been looking for.
"Yeah, it put a smile on my face," Courtney said. "It was really good football. The buildup to it was just as good as the finish itself, which was great from Josh."
With the win, the Red Wolves improved to 6-4-1 in their inaugural season as a League Two team in the United Soccer League. Cash, who scored his second goal of the match in the 78th minute, embodied the readiness required from the players. Having played sparingly so far this season, Cash stepped into the starting midfield and responded with a pair of goals.
On a team with 36 players, playing time is hard to come by for some, but Cash was ready.
"Yeah, I mean I've gotten to play 20 minutes here or there so far this season, so it was nice to get out there and get a start and to be able to contribute," Cash said after the match. "We knew after the first half if we kept the ball more we'd be able to tire them out. We created that chance, and I got a bit lucky it went in with a little help from the crossbar."
The Red Wolves controlled the match with Jonathan Ricketts scoring in the 25th minute on a rebound following a shot from Montel McKenzie to give the Red Wolves the lead. The Red Wolves outshot Charlotte 12-4, and goalkeeper James Teal earned the shutout with three saves.
Red Wolves captain Joe Stacey, who took on several physical tackles during the match, said earning the clean sheet victory was an important motivation for the players, and his sentiments were echoed by Courtney following the final whistle.
"We finally didn't let the team come back on us again," Courtney said. "We've been putting ourselves in good positions in terms of getting up on teams early, but then we'd let them back in it and it would become a dogfight. I was really happy to see the boys complete a game there tonight."
The Red Wolves have three matches remaining this season, and sit in third place in the Deep South Division. With their playoff chances slim, Courtney said the focus for himself and the players is for the players to continue to improve.
"A lot of these guys are going to be returning to their college teams this fall, so we want to continue to build their game," Courtney said. "And beyond that, you're here and you're invested, so we don't want to become individuals, we want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves."
The Red Wolves players shared high-fives and applauded the crowd after the match. With one more home match, the players' spirits remained high. They will take on South Georgia Tormenta FC 2 at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the home finale.
Stacey said his experience with the team has been one he'll remember.
"To see Josh (Cash) do that tonight was brilliant," Stacey said. "He's been getting the chances, and his time came tonight and he put two away. But with the rest of the boys, the environment at practice has been great. We've got a ton of different backgrounds and a ton of different guys, and you make the most of the three months you have together. It's a good group of lads for sure."