NEWTOWN – A soccer game that ends in a 1-1 double overtime tie usually implies a hard fought, evenly matched contest. Sometimes, scores can be misleading.
The opening season game pitting Council Rock North against Wisahickon certainly met the intensity part of the equation. Both teams battled through 100 minutes of heated play on the Council Rock home pitch in a game that ended in a 1-1 tie.
The Indians, however, outshot the Trojans by a 23-3 margin. That stat alone indicates just how dominant Council Rock really was. An attack force spearheaded by Nikita Ihlin, Nicolas Guarna, Eric Levine and Noah Ehlin kept constant pressure on Wissahickon’s rookie goalie Jun Yuh, forcing him to make 16 saves. Many of these stops took place in heavy traffic or involved charging out to thwart a fast-breaking Indian offensive thrust.
Going into the contest, most prognosticators would have predicted an intense battle. Wissahickon was the 2015 Suburban One American Conference runner-up with a 9-3 record. Council Rock finished third in the National Conference. Their 8-4-2 record placed them just behind Pennsbury and Abington. Though both teams lost some key players, they still boasted plenty of firepower.
Eric Levine, senior defensive middle back, defined the difference between last year’s squad and the slightly revised 2016 look. “Last year, we were a much bigger team, which meant we could be more physical. This year, we lost some size. We still have a core group of bigger kids but we are much more technical. This year, we move the ball from side to side to create opportunities.”
In the opening game, Wissahickon seized the first opportunity. With under a minute gone in the game, Tom McHale took a pass from Joe Maiale and powered the ball passed the outstretched hands of Indian goalie Anthony Caruso.
For Eric and his teammates, “It was a punch in the gut, a real wakeup call when they scored in the first minute of the game. That almost seemed surreal. We had to really start focusing early.”
Eric knew he had to assert his leadership role. “We have a lot of young players on the team. We have juniors and some sophomores. It was our (veterans) job to step up and say, ‘let’s move on. The next five minutes are really crucial.’”
The Indians certainly moved on, dominating the next 99 minutes of play. Time and again, they had the chance to execute a play key to their offensive thinking, the throw-in pass in front of the goal.
“Everything in our offensive series is basically a corner kick. This one is a throw-in with Noah (Ehlin) throwing the ball. It’s more accurate than a corner kick because he can throw it wherever he wants it. It’s such a weapon. A key part of practice is working on those set pieces, learning where to run and where to flip the ball.”
Often, Eric finds himself on the receiving end of Noah Ehlin’s passes. “I’m taller than some of the kids so my height is a key. I’ve also played basketball all my life too so I have strong legs and can jump pretty high. It’s all about timing and knowing when to jump.”
Against Wissahickon, a strong breeze required the Indians to tweak this vital offensive component. “You usually throw it into the wind and let it take its way. Friday, that was difficult. Noah threw in so many, he finally caught on to the pattern.”
The key toss came 70 minutes into the contest. Down 1-0 with 10 minutes left on the clock, the Indians needed a goal. Noah tossed the ball to his hungry teammates. Eric rose above the crowd and banged home the tying score, one he modestly credited to his teammates.
“There was some controversy as to who really scored the goal. I know I got a head on it but it went to the back post so someone like Justin Scharf said he might have gotten it. We really don’t know who scored. Basically, it was the same as every throw-in play. Noah threw it and I got a head on it. Justin was in a good place at the back post. It was the right place at the right time.”
Who got credited with the score was of little to concern to Eric. What mattered was that the Rock had a chance to win. After two intense overtime periods, however, the Indians had to settle for a 1-1 tie.
Though disappointed, North viewed the game as a learning experience. “Our coach (Joe Stackhouse) said there a lot of good and bad things in the game. Just look at the shot chart. It was 23-3. So we possessed it the entire game. We have to go on and think about finishing our shots and opening games stronger.”
Despite the tie, Council Rock definitely showed they should be a real soccer force in the Suburban One League.