LOWER POTTSGROVE >> The Pottsgrove boys soccer team has a history of owning the Pioneer Athletic Conference Frontier Division.
Yet through the first half of Wednesday’s visit from Phoenixville, the Phantoms were doing the owning with a steady share of quality chances, including a crossbar hit from forward Andre Souza.
Under pressure but unscathed, Pottsgrove goalkeeper Liam Abdalla and his defensive line managed to keep the Phantoms off the scoreboard for the first 40 minutes. And the next 40 for good measure.
Tyler Rolando capitalized on a defensive error less than two minutes into the second half and Germann Larmond and Mike Sereny combined to seal the game in the late stages while Abdalla continued to shine in an eight-save shutout while giving Pottsgrove a 2-0 victory over Phoenixville on its new turf home.
“It was a good win. I think we struggled a bit in the beginning defensively. But once we got the jitters out we really held our own, played really well and deserved the win,” Abdalla said. “I think we really controlled the game even though we didn’t score in the first half. I knew it was coming because we were getting our opportunities. And I knew we were holding our own in the back.”
Abdalla and defenders Jared Krieger, Kevin Benitez, Pat O’Brien and Nik Curnew needed to against the Phantoms’ attacking talent of Souza, midfielder Phil Meszaros plus Jared Carboy and Clay Kopko.
For all the attacking threat Phoenixville posed, they were unlucky not to score with Souza and Meszaros each hitting the crossbar.
Conversely, the Falcons made the most of their chances despite the superb performance by Phoenixville keeper Mitchell Coll (8 saves).
Rolando pounced on a failed header clearance and fired high, near-side past Coll at the 38:20 mark of the second half. Pottsgrove kept up the pressure earning corner after corner (nine in the second half, 15 overall) and was rewarded when senior forward Larmond carried the ball to the left end line and cut a pass back for onrushing sophomore Sereny for an easy finish and decisive 2-0 lead with 11 minutes remaining.
Scoring goals >> Pottsgrove is coming off a District 1-AA championship and with nine returning starters it has visions of an even better season that will include another Frontier Division championship and long-sought trip to the PAC final, plus another district run, this time in AAA.
“It’s always the same with Pottsgrove soccer. I had two brothers that went through here and the goals are always the same. Even though we won districts last year, our regular season wasn’t the best so we want to really hold our own against the crossovers and come out unbeaten on our side,” Abdalla said. “And of course we really want to get over that hump and be the first (Frontier) team to get into the (PAC) final and win it. We definitely think we’re capable of it because our team did such big things last year and we returned nine starters.”
“We have the experience now and hope to win another district title and have another run at states even though last year didn’t end the way we wanted it to. This year we’re hoping that won’t happen again.”
Phoenixville for its part left Wednesday undeterred and is still gunning for the Falcons’ position in the division.
“This is my third year on varsity and I think this is the best team I’ve been on,” Coll said. “We’ve definitely been on track. We have a better record than in years past and I think we’re hitting our stride.
“Our goal is to try to get to districts. I’ve been here four years and I’ve never seen a district (berth) out of this team. I think we’re good enough to do that.”
No place like home? >> Pottsgrove has very different surroundings in 2016, trading in its compact, natural grass field for a brand new turf track.
It suits the possession-based playing style of Jay Witkowski’s Pottsgrove teams.
“It’s really good for our team because we play real wide and really fast on the turf. It helps out a lot for us. So far we like it,” Abdalla said. “A few bruises from diving on it, but other than that…”
Keeping up >> Goalkeepers Abdalla and Coll were all but one-upping each other.
Abdalla made a low, diving save of a Colin Hook shot from a long cross from Souza in the first half. Coll wasn’t to be outdone with a star save from close range on a Jacob Spotts swinging strike and made a diving, tip save of a Sereny shot later.
It was all respect between the two.
“Liam did a great job,” Coll said. “We just couldn’t put it in the back of the net and I guess you’ll have those games every once in a while.
“Pottsgrove was district champs last year, they’re a good team and I think we hung with them. It was a close game. I think we gave it a good fight. We definitely had a lot of chances, it was just one of those games where we weren’t able to finish a lot.”