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It was mostly smiles after a 2-0 home win for the Muscatine boys soccer team over Davenport North on Friday night despite the frigid conditions.

But senior Antonio Melendez saw something that concerned him.

With a 2-0 advantage late in the game, the Muskies blew two opportunities to extend the lead, and finishing those types of plays in the lower corners of the net was an emphasis in practice just a day prior.

As the Muscatine players walked toward the sidelines, Melendez gathered the team and reminded the Muskies that those little things are going to matter at some point, even if they didn't on Friday.

"It's little stuff like this in practice where if we're being lazy, it transfers over to games," Melendez said. "As a captain and a leader on this team that's something I really want to emphasize and get in these guys' heads. If this is a 1-1 game or 0-0, we're going to need to finish the goals late in the game."

Leadership, scoring and playmaking are three things that Muscatine coach Jose Varela and other members of the team felt Melendez could bring in his return to town. All of that was on display Friday night.

"The leadership of Antonio and (Josh) Hutton this year has been really, really good," Varela said. "It takes a lot off our plates as coaches because it's peer to peer."

Varela said Melendez "put us through to the end," and on top of that, he was the one who got the Muskies (3-2, 2-0 MAC) rolling early.

Once Melendez got a feel for the game in the opening minutes he began pushing up more from his centerback position. It finally paid off in the 35th minute when sophomore Drake Daniels hit him with a through ball and he finished the play to give Muscatine a 1-0 lead.

"As long as I have a good first touch there's no doubt I'm going to finish it," Melendez said. "Props to Drake for the great ball on that one."

Varela admitted that goal was a huge boost for the Muskies, saying they didn't want to be stuck in a position where they were fighting the weather and playing from behind. Although Melendez said adrenaline takes over when he gets on the field, the 27-degree temperature that felt like 15 after the wind chill certainly had an impact on the game.

"You have to really focus on getting past the elements, but it's hard," Varela said. "It hurts, the little things become painful. The ball is harder, it just affects everything."

The Muskies were able to dominate possession for a majority of the second half and were finally able to get some breathing room when junior Angel Arceo scored a goal on an assist from Eddie Treiber in the 68th minute.

Although North only had one shot on goal until the last 10 minutes, there were some anxious moments early for Muscatine.

The Muskies were called for a penalty inside the box early in the first half, but a few moments later the officials determined it was just outside the box, meaning Muscatine had the chance to wall up defenders instead of facing a penalty kick with the game still scoreless.

In the second half, with Muscatine holding a 1-0 lead, junior Alberto Guzman, a substitute off the bench, cut off a North corner kick and cleared the ball. Had he not done that Varela said the game easily could have been tied at one, but instead the Muskies cruised to a victory.

But there's still room for improvement.

"It's not just about scoring goals. There's a lot more to it," Melendez said. "Our touch can be better, every one of us can get better. It's a team effort."

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Sports Reporter

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