Venice High School’s Aron Smith has something not many players can stake claim to: the Palmetto boys soccer team’s number.
Smith’s golden goal on a free kick from about 20 yards out at the end of overtime enabled the Indians to claim the Class 4A-District 11 championship with a 2-1 victory at Harllee Stadium on Friday night. It was Smith’s second winning goal against the Tigers as the junior and the Indians handed Palmetto its only other loss of the season in November by a margin of 2-1 at the same venue.
“I actually scored a very nice goal against them here the last time, but nothing like that,” Smith said. “I’m just happy that I could put it in for my teammates who worked so hard. I saw that there was a wall set up and the goalie was lined up behind the wall. I saw that I could curl it into the back (right) post since the goalie was too close to the near post.”
A foul on Palmetto senior Frankie Arroyo created the free-kick opportunity for Smith, and subsequent yellow cards were issued to Palmetto’s Gilberto Caballero and Venice’s Andre Streich. Palmetto head coach Rui Fernandes had a different perspective on the foul called on Arroyo.
“I’m going to argue that it wasn’t a free kick,” said Fernandes, whose team dropped to 19-2-1 with the loss. “I thought Frankie established himself in front of the player, but the referee calls a foul. It’s understandable because we’re all human. No. 14 (Smith) took a nice kick. That’s a credit to him. A great goal.”
The even and often physical match appeared headed toward another overtime and a possible penalty kick shootout before Smith struck.
Venice (14-2-3) will play host to Estero, a 5-0 loser to Naples Gulf Coast in the District 12 final, on Wednesday night at 7 in the Class 4A-Region 3 quarterfinals. Palmetto will travel to Naples Gulf Coast for its quarterfinal on Wednesday.
“A great team and a great win for (Venice),” Fernandes said. “Hopefully, we will see them again (in the region semifinals on Feb. 4).”
Palmetto junior forward Jorge Morales opened the scoring, with the assist coming courtesy of classmate Alfredo Manriquez, in the 27th minute. Venice drew even in the 53rd minute as senior Tyler Ferguson’s free kick found the sliding foot of fellow captain and senior John Gokey, who got the ball past Palmetto goalkeeper Ryan Hirst.
Palmetto, which had won six straight since a 3-3 tie at Tampa Berkeley Prep on Jan. 5, and Venice each had 12 shots. Hirst and his Venice counterpart, Grant Alexander, were each credited with eight saves.