By Christopher Kamrani
| The Salt Lake Tribune
Sandy • Spider-Man showed up at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday morning for the Class 2A boys’ soccer state championship match. He stood between the posts on the south side of the stadium staring down Manti goal-scorer Carlo Garcia.
Garcia took his first few steps and put the ball to the left of Spider-Man. But the man in the Spider-Man jersey read the move. He dived and stuffed the penalty-kick attempt one minute before halftime.
American Leadership Academy sophomore keeper Anson Gwilliam was Spider-Man for 80 minutes in the most important match of the season, and he ensured his high-flying Eagles their first state championship in school history. ALA rolled past defending champion Manti 3-1 to win the 2A crown.
"Went with my instinct," Gwilliam said, holding onto his Spider-Man keeper’s jersey, "and it worked out great."
This year’s Eagles were a different group, as coach Steve Solen said afterward, adding his team had the championship DNA as it faced each obstacle and moved past it, finishing the year 17-1.
"This was their game," he said. "They deserve it."
ALA struck first in the ninth minute when senior Hector Martinez got loose on a corner kick and flicked a header to the far post. After Garcia knotted the game 1-1 six minutes later, it was Martinez’s moment again when he rocketed a shot from 30 yards out into the upper 90 of the net.
Martinez gave credit to his father, who currently is in Mexico, for his performance on the state’s biggest stage.
"Those goals were for my dad," he said.
The Eagles rolled from there. They dominated possession in the second half, consistently quelled a high-octane Templars offense and added a third goal in the 60th minute when sophomore Mahonry Chichia finished a cross into the box.
"The time to step up was today," Solen said. "We were more aggressive and we were more conditioned. They were more tired, and we weren’t."
For Martinez, his dream of becoming a state champion was realized when the clock was counted down from 10. Eagles players and coaches eagerly awaited sprinting onto the field, cementing the reality of the school’s first-ever state championship.
"It was something I’ve been waiting for my whole life," he said. "It’s actually an honor playing for this team."
Heading into Saturday’s match, Solen said there were some nerves from his players knowing just how far they’d come, but the final message was simple.
"Before the game, we said, ‘Play your game, and you’ll win,’’" he said.
For 80 minutes, the Eagles soared around the pitch at Rio Tinto and never came back down.
"I’m on Cloud 9," Solen said.