Eber Blanco thought his days of playing goalkeeper were done. Then two weeks ago, the Great Neck North senior was told he was moving from defender to goalkeeper because starter Gabe Diamond was sidelined with mononucleosis.
Blanco wasn't too thrilled about the idea. He spent half of his sophomore season in goal before missing his junior season because of a torn ACL. Blanco played defense all this season and hadn't played in goal for two years.
One could hardly tell. Blanco made nine saves in his third start in goal to help host Great Neck North knock off two-time defending champion South Side, 2-1, Friday in a Nassau Class A first-round boys soccer game. Sixth-seeded Great Neck North (9-1-3) will host Valley Stream North in the quarterfinals at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
"At first, I was iffy," Blanco said. "I didn't feel comfortable with my goalie skills. The transition was difficult."
Blanco said he had a few sessions with assistant coach Kyle Reich and it gave him more confidence. Blanco has two shutouts in his three starts.
"He was awesome," GNN senior Mathias Krogstad said. "He came up big."
South Side (8-5-1) made a furious charge in the second half after trailing 2-0 at halftime. Kevin Cook scored with 17 minutes left in the game to bring South Side within 2-1. Two minutes later, a header off a corner kick flew toward the net from the crowd in the box and Blanco made the save.
The Blazers took the lead in the 13th minute. Jonathan Mata took a long shot that took an awkward bounce and went past the South Side goalkeeper. Later in the half after Blanco made a diving save, the transition down the field resulted in a goal.
Andreas Joensen sent a through ball to Krogstad, who scored to give the Blazers the 2-0 lead. The goal proved to be huge.
"South Side is a fantastic program," Griffin said. "They are here every year. They played like a two-time defending champ in the second half. They fought until the very end. We grinded out a win. The second half wasn't pretty. Sometimes you need to win an ugly game to move forward."