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By Herbert Lemus’ tally, it was eight minutes to go against Rancho, about 10 minutes to play against Windsor, and 12 minutes to go against Ukiah when the mistakes were made.

Late goals, momentary lapses and the Healdsburg Greyhounds boys soccer team found itself walking away from games with losses or a tie instead of a win.

The ’Hounds, who shared the Sonoma County League title with Elsie Allen last season, dropped their opener to Rancho 2-1 after they had a 1-0 lead, then fell to Windsor 4-3 after building a 3-2 lead, let Ukiah back in with a 1-1 tie and almost did the same with Piner after going up 2-0 — but managed to get away with a 2-1 win.

It’s an issue Lemus, the ’Hounds’ head coach, knows his very young team must address — and fast. The ’Hounds’ next game is after the winter break against a talented Sonoma Valley team on Jan. 4.

“We need to learn to put teams away when we have them down,” Lemus said. “For me, it takes a little bit of character for you to do it.”

And that takes a little time at the varsity level.

The ’Hounds went 11-6 last season and 9-3 in league to share the title with Elsie. But they did it with a pretty senior-rich roster. This year? Not so much. The ’Hounds are starting three freshmen, two sophomores, five juniors and one senior: Goalkeeper Javier Aguilar.

“A lot of these guys, No. 1, they are learning to play on the varsity level, and No. 2, they don’t realize the intensity of the game does pick up in those last minutes,” he said. “We have to stay focused on the game. We cannot have lapses where it’s going to come back on us.”

Lemus said his fairly high substitution rate — he’s trying to get his young guys minutes — could be affecting how players adjust to the rhythm of the game. But Lemus said his players need to figure out how to continue to play high-intensity defense without giving up critical fouls in the no-no zone.

“We have a very physical line in the back and we have committed too many fouls inside the penalty box area,” he said. “We let teams come back on us, we give them an easy goal or a (penalty kick).”

Healdsburg gave up a PK against Ukiah, another against Rancho and again versus Windsor, Lemus said.

“You need to know where you are before you commit the foul. Those are giveaways,” he said.

That said, Lemus likes the way his defense plays. He likes the hard-nosed mentality. Despite giving up three penalty kicks, the ’Hounds have not gotten any red cards.

Still, Lemus is trying to teach his players to have greater awareness of where they are when they go in for a tackle.

“They are doing whatever it takes to get the ball, but in the process, you have to remember there is a consequence,” he said.

One thing Lemus can’t work on or can’t coach around is the ’Hounds’ schedule. Like last season, Healdsburg is on the road. They have no choice — their natural-grass field is not suitable to host games after any kind of foul weather.

With a new turf field in the works, courtesy of voter-approved Measure D in 2016, the road warriors should finally make it home — next season.

“For us, it’s been challenging to have winter soccer,” Healdsburg principal Bill Halliday said.

The team has been practicing on natural grass, but when it rains they move to the tennis courts. So they are back to another season of rented buses and asking other schools to host not one but two games.

“Having a full season away makes it a challenge,” Halliday said. “Last year, sadly, it was an easy decision. It was clear it was not going to be playable.”

Halliday called area schools “incredibly generous” to host the ’Hounds while plans for new, winter-friendly facilities move forward, but he’s ready to bring the games back home for the team’s parents as much as the players.

“It’s really hard for them to get off work and come to any game and if it’s across the county, it makes it really hard for them,” he said.

Senior night this season? Feb. 6 at El Molino High in Forestville.

“We are going to be very competitive this year,” Halliday said, which makes the road show even harder to swallow.

“They complain a little bit about it. But they like playing so much and Herbert is such a great coach,” he said.

Lemus and school officials decided early to take the mystery out of whether any school field would be playable in foul weather — they just scheduled every single game away.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the groundbreaking on a $10 million turf field, track, bleachers and lights project is scheduled for spring. The winter 2019 season should finally be at home, Halliday said.

“It’s all good,” Lemus said.

Still, 2019 is a world away for coach and crew. In the here and now, Lemus is trying to iron out those issues that reared their head in the preseason and get his kids ready for the thick of league play. Lemus is emphasizing to his players that the ’Hounds have been good at getting up on opponents early, just faltering a bit on the staying-up part.

And the coach is the first to say it’s going to be a tough go in the SCL this season.

Piner is 2-0-1 after tying Novato in its opener and beating Maria Carrillo 4-0 and Santa Rosa 4-0. Elsie, always a force, dispatched Windsor 3-1 before falling to defending North Bay League champions Montgomery 5-1 and the perennially tough Rancho Cotate 2-0.

And Sonoma Valley, Lemus said, is likely hungry to make a run in this, its final season, in the Sonoma County League.

“Those kids look pretty darned good,” Lemus said. “I’m pretty sure they want something out of it — we all do — but I think Sonoma will be the one to chase.”

Lemus knows about the chase. It’s just that his team has been the one being chased in games so far this season. His job now is get his kids to play 80 minutes without letting their competitors catch them.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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