Photos/Videos: Donna Eckert, Krystal Williams & Luke Gallagher
By: John Knebels
PHILADELPHIA – When a Philadelphia Catholic League team defeats La Salle in soccer, the anomaly warrants copious research.
Consider . . .
Prior to Tuesday, the Explorers had gone 59-4-4 during the regular season and won four titles in five tries since 2016; the devastating 2020 global pandemic provided no champion. They had lost twice to Lansdale Catholic and once to both Archbishop Wood and St. Joseph’s Prep. They had tied Lansdale Catholic twice, and the Prep and Roman Catholic once each.
So while Father Judge’s stunning 2-1 victory September 27 over the Explorers technically only altered the PCL standings into a traffic jam and supplied revenge for a heartbreaking 3-2 loss in last year’s championship, it ignited a firestorm among local soccer social media.
Though coaches emphasize the mantra that every game is important, Father Judge coach John Dunlop admitted that some wins shine more brightly.
“Games like tonight is one of them,” said Dunlop. “La Salle is always tough and well-coached. When the schedule comes out, you look for La Salle and circle that date.
“But you can't get ahead of yourself. This league is very different than others. It’s special. Teams have played several games in the league. They are hitting their stride to get into the playoffs. Every team is battling to get points. So the games get bigger and better and more passionate.”
With an assist from junior teammate Abu Cherif, Father Judge senior Mike McCusker opened the scoring 10 minutes into the first half.
“Abu beats his man down the sideline and hits it right to my foot,” said McCusker. “All I had left to do was finish it.”
The Crusaders doubled their advantage with about 12 minutes remaining in regulation. Once again, Cherif served as catalyst. Taking a pass from junior Dane Pizzaro, Cherif set up senior Hugh Nungesser for a header that found the back of the net.
The Crusaders played keep away for the final minutes, though they did surrender a goal in the final seconds.
“This win was everything to me and the guys,” said Nungesser. “The passion we all have for big games like these is incredible, especially against a tough team like La Salle. I couldn’t have asked for a better night.”
McCusker couldn’t agree more.
“To never beat La Salle and finally my senior year to take them down felt great,” he said. “Once the second goal went in, our confidence boosted high. The pressure came off all the guys, but we knew it wasn’t over until the final whistle. But once the whistle blew, that feeling was a once-in-a-lifetime one.”
Cherif took great joy in his roll as Mr. Distributor.
“It was very exciting,” said Cherif. “We’ve been waiting for this game. Our goal was to get on the scoreboard first. All the guys came out to play tonight because we knew it was not gonna be an easy game, but we were not going to let history repeat itself.”
Roman Catholic took over first place at 6-0 with a pair of wins, including a 2-1 triumph over Archbishop Ryan thanks to senior Ben Macleod’s goal in the second overtime on Friday night. The Cahillites have only allowed two goals in the PCL.
“It was great to top off a tough match like that with the game winner, especially in overtime,” said Macleod. “Honestly, it started with (senior) Nick Lachawiec’s amazing service to (senior) Alex Saldana. Then, Alex literally played a perfect head ball to me with pace. I was anticipating something finding its way through, so I continued my run and sure enough, it was there for me to finish. It happened that quick.
“I think it sunk in when I saw the entire team charging the field. I was like, ‘Wow!’ It was a super feeling, but really, Nick and Alex deserve a ton of credit.”
Macleod then provided a hat trick in a win at Cardinal O’Hara that included three assists from freshman defender Jonathan Levine and a goal and an assist from sophomore Axley Ramos.
“We just play as a team and play to our standards,” said Macleod. “The goals will come.”
Roman coach Ray DeStephanis labeled the win over O’Hara as a “decent effort, considering we have a real short bench right now” because of several injuries.
“Everyone got touches and that’s always a good thing,” said DeStephanis. “We will take the three points on the road and hope to get some guys back soon and healthy for the stretch run.”
The Cahillites now embark on an ultra-challenging journey against La Salle, at Lansdale Catholic, at Father Judge, and versus Archbishop Wood. Those four teams own a collective 19-5 record.
Archbishop Wood created a three-way tie for second place with a 2-1 win at Conwell-Egan and a 3-0 shutout at St. Joseph’s Prep.
Junior Logan Savage, freshman Brendan Welsh, and junior Enzo Petruzzelli supplied the offense behind junior goalie Julian Naumenko’s fourth shutout.
“We knew Prep was going to give us a fight,” said Naumenko. “Despite some minor setbacks with late yellow cards, we knew what we had to do was hold our shape and keep the intensity high. Every game this season is a must win and i know keeping shutouts will help our team in the long run.”
The Vikings have captured five straight since a 2-1 overtime loss to La Salle in the division opener. Against SJP, Wood was facing a squad coming off a 1-0 loss to Lansdale Catholic.
“Teams are very motivated to make a comeback after a previous loss,” said Naumenko. “We were aware Prep was coming off a loss and ready for what they would bring to the table.”
Now at 4-2, Lansdale Catholic maintained sole possession of fifth place after wins at St. Joseph’s Prep (1-0) and Archbishop Carroll (6-0). Taking into consideration an impressive 1-0 non-league victory over Pope John Paul II – cemented by junior Matt Schaefer’s overtime tally, assisted by sophomore winger Chase Anderson – the Crusaders have won four straight.
The win over Carroll – particularly important because both teams reside in Class 2A territory – was fueled by junior Gianluca D’Alterio (three goals), senior captain Jake Magarity (two goals), junior James Duardo (one goal), and junior Matt Schaefer (three assists). Sophomore Pat Cole, senior at Leahy, and Anderson added one assist apiece.
Despite the lopsided score, Lansdale Catholic coach Casey Farrell lauded Archbishop Carroll’s effort.
“We started early with two goals in the first nine minutes,” said Farrell. “We dominated possession, had a ton of opportunities in the attacking third, and never really took our foot off the gas. It was important for us to have this sort of offensive explosion because we had been struggling to find the net in recent games. We needed to remind ourselves of the sorts of things it takes to score goals.
“And credit to Carroll and their coaching. They caught us on a really good day, but not once did those players slow down. They made us earn everything.”
Conwell-Egan bounced back from a 2-1 loss to Archbishop Wood by shutting out Class 2A opponent Devon Prep.
“It felt great to get back to winning games again,” said C-E senior Dillon Farrell. “We were really two plays away from winning our games against Wood and Lansdale. But this game was very important for our push for playoffs and district. We plan on showing the rest of the PCL what Egan soccer can do this year.”
At 2-3-1, the Eagles will attempt its first winning streak when they visit Cardinal O’Hara on Friday. A win there could elevate the Eagles to as high as a sixth-place tie.
“This win made us who we are,” said junior Noah Kiesewetter. “We don’t give up and we fight. After losing two close games, you would thing we would lose hope and give up, but we didn’t. We kept going.”
(Contact John Knebels at email@example.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