HOLLAND >> There are no style points in soccer.
But style can tell a story, especially when two teams are trying to impose drastically different playing styles on to a game, just like it did Wednesday night in the District 1-AAA girls soccer semifinals at Council Rock North High School.
Central Bucks East’s style of high-everything – pressure, defensive line, height of the long balls being played over the top of the defense – struck a stark contrast to Spring-Ford’s methodical, side-to-side, ‘play to feet’ style.
Style doesn’t win games though. Big-time players do, which is where Emma Loving came in.
The Patriots senior forward smashed a free kick from 22 yards out with 9:17 left in regulation to provide the only goal in a push-and-pull battle to lift Central Bucks East over Spring-Ford 1-0 to clinch a return to the District 1-AAA final.
The No. 1 seeded Patriots maintained their unbeaten record (20-0-1) and advanced to face No. 10 Downingtown West – a winner in penalty kicks over Council Rock North in the other semifinal – Saturday, 3 p.m. at Souderton.
Spring-Ford (17-4-2) was halted in its quest for District 1 glory and will head to a PIAA seeding game with Council Rock North on Saturday before making another run at a state title beginning Tuesday.
The Rams were left frustrated by CB East’s style of playing it long at all times.
“We had never played them before so we didn’t know how they played. Our strategy was to pass around them and keep the ball on the ground and hopefully we’d get one in. But we just couldn’t find the net,” said Spring-Ford senior defender Taylor Newhart.
“It was really frustrating. They were playing over our heads the entire time and it didn’t really feel like soccer. It felt like kickball.”
Other teams this season may have felt the same way, yet none have solved head coach Paul Eisold’s Patriots.
C.B. East was all over the Rams in the first 20 minutes and were unlucky to not have a lead while completely pinning Spring-Ford into its own half.
But Spring-Ford’s highly rated defense featuring Newhart, Laura Suero, Missy Moore and Amy Roth wouldn’t concede as Loving tried successfully to create chances down the left flank.
That’s why Eisold grew concerned after his team was unable to convert despite dominating the first 30 minutes.
“The longer the game went on it felt like their game plan was being more successful,” Eisold said. “They got momentum, got much better and did very well getting side to side, they just couldn’t get that final ball through us and that saved us because our backs stepped up and played terrific, Abby Brown, who played a variety of roles, Emily Horn, Megan Mannato, Katie Bloom, Paige Weiss. Defend, defend and get your break, that’s what we were able to do tonight.”
With seniors Horn and Weiss leading the way through the spine, Spring-Ford couldn’t break down the reigning District 1 runners-up and PIAA semifinalists even as they gained traction in the game.
“As a team I thought we played pretty good to be fair,” Spring-Ford coach Tim Leyland said. “We moved the ball decently. The first 10 was hectic, you could feel the energy. It wasn’t really our style.”
Ultimately, a game that appeared destined for a 1-0 scoreline or even penalty kicks got the breakthrough.
Spring-Ford conceded a free kick along the right side from just over 20 yards out and in stepped Loving, who split the Rams’ two-person wall with a curling drive with under 10 minutes to play.
“Emma is a competitor and finds a way,” Eisold said of the Penn recruit. “The tighter you play her the more competitive she gets and determined to finish the ball. When you have a player the caliber of Emma, they find a way and that’s what she did.”
In a deadlocked match, it only takes one moment.
“We made one mistake and we put one of the most dangerous shooters in Pennsylvania in a dangerous spot. She hit a really great shot and she was able to beat us,” Leyland said.
While Central Bucks East has its eyes set on claiming a district championship that evaded them in 2014, the Rams seemed to immediately want another crack at the Patriots.
“We can just take this loss and try to take it in a good way. Hopefully we’ll see them in states. Now we know how they play. … Now we’ll take this and come out stronger next game,” Newhart said.
“It’s a tough one to swallow. I wish we could have come out on the better side, but hopefully we’re prepared now if we ever see them again,” Leyland said.
NOTES >> In a game with few shots on target as each team cancelled the other out, Spring-Ford keeper Amanda Byrd made one save while the CB East duo of Katie Dolf and Kristen Obetz split halves and recorded two saves. … Spring-Ford’s best chance was a Gabby Kane drive from distance with 23 minutes remaining that Obetz tipped wide. … CB East led in corners 3-2 and total shots 7-5.
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