As Montgomery Blair High School boys’ soccer midfielder Keenthy Yeboah stepped to the ball in preparation for a free kick roughly 45 yards away from Paint Branch’s goal and his team leading by one with 22 minutes remaining, he knew exactly what he was going to do.
And, odds are, not many other players in the county would have had a similar thought. Yeboah targeted the far post against Panthers goalkeeper Austin Banfield and sent a blistering right-footed shot toward the net with the intent of scoring, not assisting.
Following a lengthy flight through the Monday evening air, the ball slipped by Banfield and tickled the side netting, standing as one of two sublime strikes from distance that helped the Blazers to a 3-1 victory against the Panthers.
In a largely dominant performance against a division foe, the Blazers improved to 7-1-0 while Paint Branch fell to 5-4-2 playing on its wet home turf.
“When the free kick’s on the right side, I’ll try and take it every time,” said Yeboah, who now has five goals this season. “That’s why my players weren’t disturbing it. Either it goes in or it goes out [of bounds] and this one went in.”
In addition to Yeboah’s highlight goal, senior Alferid Kemal delivered an equally-impressive shot to the top right corner from 35 yards out in the first half of Blair’s 4A North Division opener.
“Our defensive midfielder has a very strong shot,” Blazers coach John Haigh said of Yeboah. “He’s got a lot of talent. When you have guys like him and Donald [Benamna], who can line it up from distance, that helps.”
After applying heavy pressure from the opening kick, the Blazers opened the scoring in the 15th minute, thanks in large part to Yeboah. After creating a turnover near midfield, the talented senior lobbed the ball toward winger Shakiel Wray, who timed his run perfectly and flicked a shot high into the air and over Banfield’s outstretched arms.
“We’ve had four straight years of 10-plus wins and we’ve won two straight division titles,” Haigh said. “I always feel like we’re one of the four or five top teams every year and that’s no different this year.”
Blair, which is distancing itself from a crowded bunch of competitive teams in Montgomery County, doubled its lead when Kemal’s strike caught Banfield off guard in the 36th minute.
The Panthers were unable to generate much in the attacking third in the first half as their only shot came on a free kick from 40 yards out that sailed over the crossbar. The opening 10 minutes of the second half, however, were different. Blair goalkeeper Luis Cruz was forced to make a diving stop on Paint Branch forward Renzo Quiroga’s free kick from 20 yards out, which led to a corner kick. On the ensuing corner, were it not for sophomore defender Yordi Rodas’ save off the line, the Panthers would have drawn within one.
Paint Branch eventually broke through when Zack Thomas headed home a bouncing ball in the box following another corner service that made it 2-1 in the 51st minute.
After conceding the goal, Blair recaptured its first-half intensity and possessed the ball well down the stretch until Yeboah’s dagger in the 69th.
“We have strong strikers, strong midfielders and strong defenders to take on any team that comes our way, no matter their size or their strength,” Yeboah said.
Montgomery Blair 3, Paint Branch 1
Blair (7-1-0) 2 1 — 3
Paint Branch (5-4-2) 0 1 — 1
MB — Shakiel Wray 15’; Alferid Kemal 36’; Keenthy Yeboah 69’
PB — Zack Thomas 51’