By: John Knebels
Photos: Kathy Leister & Mike Gray
PHILADELPHIA - Catholic League boys’ soccer begins. Then you blink, and one third of the season is already in the books.
The storyline seems to be an annual repeat. A few elite teams rise to the surface, several are perched a bit below them, a handful are doing their best to remain relevant, and a few more are overwhelmed but not for a lack of effort.
Among the early-season highlights . . .
In a riveting match on Saturday, La Salle edged Roman Catholic, 2-1, in two overtimes. A few days before the much-hyped contest, La Salle senior Jake Crawford said the Explorers were “pumped to get the game started and show our potential for this year on a big stage.”
After falling behind, 1-0, on a tally by Roman senior Tom Bagnell early in the second half, junior Brandon Curran tied the game on a penalty kick with 9:08 left.
With one minute remaining in the second overtime, junior Ben Herron was credited with the game winner, with an assist going to freshman Seth Michalak.
“It was a great delivery from Seth off the corner,” said Herron.
“Once I realized the ball went in, it was just pure mayhem. The entire team ran onto the field and it was so relieving to grab an important three points from a good Roman team.
“It was definitely a career highlight for me. It was an important game for the team and a testament to the hard work the team has put in to get results.”
Senior Jack Heineman was in net for La Salle, which remains the only team in the Catholic League with a perfect record at 4-0.
“Going into the game we didn’t have expectations other than for ourselves to control what we can control as a team,” said Crawford. “Both teams fought hard.
“The win was huge for us and we realized that very quickly after, but we also had to realize that we are only a few games into the season and that we still have many teams to go.”
The loss dropped the Cahillites to 4-1, but it served notice that Roman is once again a Catholic League powerhouse. Among the reasons is Gil Newton. The senior already has three hat tricks on the season.
If Roman losing to La Salle increased anyone’s doubts that the Cahillites are not a legitimate title contender, Newton really doesn’t care.
“I know there are people doubting us because of the result the past few years,” said Newton, referring to Roman losing in the Catholic League championship three straight seasons. “But that’s alright because it just makes us hungrier for the plaque.”
Also on Saturday, Father Judge faced a St. Joseph’s Prep team that entered with a 5-0 record – all by shutout – and 20 goals scored.
But after the Prep took a 1-0 lead in the second half, senior Tom Sweeney immediately tied the game. With five minutes left in regulation, senior Tim Purcell booted home the lead goal and sophomore netminder Bob Mulvenna made it stand for the electric 2-1 triumph and improve the Crusaders’ record to 3-1.
“Bob came up with a handful of big saves to keep us in the game,” said Judge senior Brendan McCarthy. “He played great today and helped us out a lot. His big saves in the back gave us momentum. He definitely stepped up today to show what he is capable of.
“It was the biggest win I've got to experience in my years at Father Judge. Prep is a great team every year, but today we came out on top. When we fell behind, we stayed calm and played our game. We just kept playing our game and working hard. Our whole team wants to win more than anyone else.
“This game was a huge push into a showdown versus Ryan Tuesday night. We hope to win and jump up in the rankings.”
Purcell was asked about his clutch game winner.
“Honestly, I can’t even remember how the play unfolded,” said Purcell. “I just remember watching the ball roll into the side of the net and knowing that we just had to close out the game on the defensive end to secure the win.
“If I had to rank it in terms of my all-time thrills, it’s definitely something I won’t forget. It’s an awesome feeling to hear your teammates and coaches cheering after a goal like that. We’re a team that loves to play the game and compete at a high level, and I think that’s what it’s all about.”
The Prep dropped to 4-1. One loss does not undermine a fantastic start. Seniors Kane Ritchie and Aidan O’Neil have been the main goal scorers. Senior goalie Stephen Lindsay has been stellar in goal. Senior Tom Magiera, junior Owen Brown, and senior Danny Campbell have frustrated the opposition with great all-around defense.
Ritchie scored the only goal in the Hawks’ 1-0 win over Archbishop Ryan on September 11.
“We haven’t had a major change to the starting lineup, but we are a lot hungrier since we have lost in the semifinals two years in a row,” said Prep senior Collin Knight. “The goal of every game is to leave everything you have on the field.”
Knight maintained a balanced view of the Prep’s first loss.
“This is a learning moment for us,” said Knight. “It’s teaching us how to deal with a loss and how to come back from it.”
The only other undefeated squad in the Catholic League is Lansdale Catholic.
The 3-0-1 Crusaders have already defeated Archbishop Ryan, 2-0, and on Saturday battled defending champion Archbishop Wood to a scoreless tie.
Against Ryan, senior Jim Alff scored early and senior Tom Cusumano added insurance midway through the second half. Junior goalie Kellan Ward kept his perfect record intact with his third straight shutout. Ward extended it to four with the tie against Wood.
“Beating Ryan was a great win for our team,” said LC senior Sean Cole. “I’m very proud of the way our whole team played and have been playing the past few games, starting off with one of our strongest starts in a long time. I hope we can keep this energy and momentum going forward into the next few weeks of league play to prove the new team we are.”
Archbishop Wood senior Ryan Morgan said wearing the crown has its share of unique challenges.
“Being defending champions, we have to come at every opponent with our best effort,” said Morgan, whose Vikings graduated eight starters and are 3-1-1 thus far. “We can not take teams lightly and have to finish every game out. We have to stay focused at all times.”
Wood’s loss was to Archbishop Ryan, 4-3, in overtime on September 6. Ryan junior Sidiki Fofana emerged ecstatic.
“That win changed everything for us,” he said. “We are more confident. We strongly believe we can beat any team in this league if we play together as a team.”
The Raiders fell behind 2-0 and 3-1. Inside the final 30 minutes of regulation, senior Josh Young lowered the deficit to 3-2 and Fofana executed a penalty kick to tie the game.
In overtime, Fofana found freshman Tim Cliggett on a throw-in. Cliggett redirected to Fofana, whose shot eluded the Wood goalie for the thrilling victory. Fofana finished with a hat trick.
“I felt relieved,” he said, referring to the overtime winner. “Like all the pressure I was under just left my body.”
After a 0-3 start, Devon Prep picked up a pair of much-victories. The Tide stopped Bishop McDevitt, 4-1, on September 11 behind goals by senior Sean O’Reilly, senior Alex Hardie, sophomore Jack Friend, and junior Ethan Skorup. Aided by senior goalie Chris Yangello, they edged Bonner-Prendergast, 2-1, three days later.
“Beating Bishop McDevitt (4-1 on September 11) was a huge win for us,” said Devon sophomore Chris Walton. “That first win was very important. It definitely gave us confidence that we could play well together and led to probably our best game of the season against Monsignor Bonner. We’re looking to turn our season around and make a push in the playoffs.”
(Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)
Tag(s): Home Schools Philadelphia Catholic Soccer Boys Soccer Philadelphia Catholic League Arch. Carroll Boys Soccer Arch. Ryan Boys Soccer Arch. Wood Boys Soccer Bishop McDevitt Boys Soccer Bonner & Prendie Boys Soccer Cardinal O'Hara Boys Soccer Conwell-Egan Boys Soccer Father Judge Soccer La Salle Soccer Lansdale Cath. Boys Soccer Neumann/Goretti Boys Socce Roman Catholic Soccer Saint Joseph's Prep Soccer Devon Prep