Ivan Pacheco worked on his free kicks so much this preseason he decided to start keeping track.
On one particular day, the counter on the Janesville Craig senior’s cellphone eclipsed the 300 mark.
It didn’t take long for that practice to pay off. His free kick goal in the first half was the difference in the Cougars’ 1-0 nonconference victory over visiting Watertown to open the high school boys soccer season Tuesday night.
“Before the season, my coach brought out some extra dummies and we just spent hours outside,” Pacheco said. “My legs are dead right now, but it’s all good.”
True offensive chances were few and far between for a Craig team replacing eight seniors from last season, so Pacheco’s set piece blast was critical.
In the 17th minute, Craig drew a foul about seven yards to the left side of the scoring box. Pacheco stepped up to a bit of an odd angle and took aim.
“I just wanted to put it on target,” he said. “We’ve practiced a couple set pieces where I put it on target with power, and they (my teammates) come in and tap it in if their keeper doesn’t get it.”
Pacheco’s blast sailed toward the upper half of the net and found its way through the keeper’s mitts at 16:39.
“He’s a specialist,” Craig coach Garrett McCabe said. “More often than not, when he steps to the ball, you feel like something good is going to happen.”
The crossbar helped Craig preserve its one-goal lead at halftime. Watertown’s best first-half chance rang off the frame, bouncing down toward the goal line and out.
With the wind at their back, Watertown had the majority of the chances in the second half.
Craig junior keeper Ty Bienema corralled an easy shot into his chest in the 74th minute and then made a much more difficult stop four minutes later, sprawling to his right to make an outstretched save. Bienema finished with six saves.
McCabe said the victory was far from pretty but was a good starting point that started two sophomores and two juniors on its back line.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to grind a game through, keep fighting and get a result,” McCabe said. “Now we know what we’ve got to work on, and it’s everything.
“The good part is we’ve got a ton of talent. We just have to figure out how to use it and get these guys in the right frame of mind.
“A result is a result, and we’ll take it. But we can only go up from here.”
Craig plays in a quadrangular at Big Foot this Saturday.
CRAIG 1, WATERTOWN 0
Watertown 0 0—0
Janesville Craig 1 0—1
C—Ivan Pacheco, 16:39.
Saves—Eli Piasecki (W) 2, Ty Bienema (C) 6. Shots—Watertown 18, Craig 11. Fouls—Watertown 13, Craig 14. Corner kicks—Watertown 2, Craig 4. Offsides—Watertown 3, Craig 3.