Hazen boys soccer survive at Liberty and win 2-1

Stroud and Walker had first half goals that were just enough to take down LHS for first time since 2021.

After starting the season with a game falling into every column, the Hazen Highlanders soccer team is looking to be heading in the right direction.

The Highlanders just defeated cross-town rival Liberty High School 2-1 at Liberty on March 21. The win marked the third game in a row in which the Highlanders have gone unbeaten. Head Coach Ryan Johnson is optimistic for where his team is, but understands the grind of a regular season.

“It’s still early and we have some things to continue to work on. We have been snake bit with not scoring goals. It was nice to get some early and we’re starting to gel,” Johnson said.

Liberty had its way with Hazen last season, winning 5-3 in the first meeting, and the two sides couldn’t be separated in the second meeting, tying 1-1.

For the first 15 minutes of the game last Thursday night, neither side really was in control. There were not many opportunities on goal at all for either team, but in the fifteenth minute, Hazen had the best chance with a goal hitting the post.

But the Highlanders didn’t have to wait much longer to break the scoreless tie. Junior Niko Uzelac sent a ball over the top of the Liberty backline. After a large bounce, senior forward Jordan Stroud out-jumped the Liberty goalie and netted the first goal of the game.

The Highlanders kept the pressure on for the rest of the first half. Not necessarily creating a ton of chances, but controlled the pace and possession of the ball for the majority of the half. Especially after they scored the opening goal.

After a Liberty foul in the 34th minute, Hazen was gifted a chance to add on to their lead. Nathen Song sent a ball into the box that found the head of Uzelac, who flicked it towards goal. Braylon Walker came through and finished it off with a header of his own, adding some insurance for the Highlanders.

“We’ve been somewhat pretty good at set pieces this year. Braylon followed up and put it in, so hats off to him,” Johnson said.

Uzelac had a pair of assists and was a force on that backline for Hazen. He has developed into one of Hazen’s key players for this season in all phases of the game, and that was on display in the win.

“He’s grown into that center back spot. He’s a big body and has good technical skills, he’s been a huge help for us,” said Johnson.

It wasn’t just the first half that the Highlanders dominated — it was the whole game. Liberty had just one shot on target until stoppage time at the end of the second half. The backline played extremely solid for Johnson.

“As long as they aren’t getting shots off, we are doing a good job,” he said.

The one goal scored by the Patriots was a special one, a loose ball found the feet of Patriot sophomore Mark Kovalenko. He sent a firecracker that whistled its way into the bottom right corner to give Liberty some late life in the 68th minute of the contest.

But that was all Liberty could muster against Hazen, as Liberty now falls to 2-2 on the season.

3A KingCo is no slouch of a league for soccer — teams like the Patriots, Lake Washington and Mercer Island have all had success in the past couple years.

“Right now I am just happy to get the three points, we needed that. This is a very tough league, anytime you get a result it is good. Especially against a good squad like Liberty,” Johnson said.

Braylon Walker (left) and Francis Menguita (right) fight for the ball in the second half. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Braylon Walker (left) and Francis Menguita (right) fight for the ball in the second half. Ben Ray / The Reporter