UPPER MORELAND >> Statistically, Marple Newtown controlled its District 1-AAA first round game at Upper Moreland.
Observationally, the game was much more even, as both the ninth-seeded Tigers and host No. 8 Golden Bears were in each other’s end and looking to threaten. The difference came in the defenses.
Marple Newtown’s back line stifled Upper Moreland and the Tigers got a pair of excellent goals to claim a 2-0 win and a date with top seed Holy Ghost Prep on Thursday.
“We told them to keep pressing, I thought we created chances when we stepped up and forced turnovers with our defense,” Marple Newtown coach Jared Harris said. “We told our forwards to step up, pressure the backs and when they got their chances, finish them. We knew they were coming.”
Marple Newtown put a total of 12 shots on net while holding Upper Moreland to just three. Still the Bears looked a better team early but couldn’t seem to generate anything on target.
Senior Randy Meehl put in a high energy showing, but was often isolated or unable to connect with his teammates inside the attacking third. That was just what the Tigers wanted.
“We talked to our defense about stepping up as a unit,” Harris said. “It started with our defenders stepping and keeping a high line. All 11 of our guys stepped up and put pressure on and we capitalized off the turnovers we created.”
In the first half, Upper Moreland was just as stout though and goalkeeper Ryan Varela made a couple of excellent saves, two on Marple Newtown attacking mid Adam Azad. Varela and second half keeper Brennan Coleman were very good for UM and Coleman wasn’t at fault for either goal.
Switching keepers has been Upper Moreland’s thing all season. Both are seniors and have done well and Bears coach Dan Mannella didn’t want to change things up.
“Both our goalies played really well today,” Mannella said. “I always think about goalkeepers. Those guys have been splitting a lot of time and I don’t think it’s fair to give one guy a full game in the only playoff game of their career so that’s why I made the switch at halftime.”
The Tigers were confident at the half they were going to score given the chances they were getting.
Marple Newtown finally broke through in the 51st minute off a quick restart. Upper Moreland’s defense was slow to react when Raj Lohat fed the ball to Adam Azab, who dribbled past the defense and put a quality finish past Coleman.
Azab was a force all game for the Tigers, starting off as an attacking mid then shifting to a more protective holding role in the late minutes to hold the lead.
“He’s been that all year for us,” Harris said. “He generates our attack, when we need to use him, he helps keep us organized on defense with a lead. That’s something he’s done all year and it was a good finish on his end to put us up 1-0.”
The Tigers stretched the lead in the 69th minute when left back Marco Mesoraca cut in off the left flank and chipped the ball from outside the 18-yard box for a quality finish. It was a fitting reward for a defender to score given the way the entire unit played.
Stephen Bradley, Mike Smith and Richie Hannig all did well in getting in the way of Upper Moreland passes and not letting the Bears who did press forward have anyone to use as an outlet or drop off.
“Richie especially did a great job,” Harris said. “He’s been an anchor back there, not letting anything in behind him, winning tackles and cleaning up in the back.”
Marple Newtown hopes to ride the momentum into its matchup with Holy Ghost Prep on Thursday.
Upper Moreland on the other hand, will likely have to rebuild some next year with a heavily-senior laden roster. The Bears have made some strides in Mannella’s two years, winning seven games this season and six a year ago. Prior to Mannella taking over as coach last year, UM had gone winless in 2014, so a playoff appearance was a nice way to send off the seniors.
“It’s probably what I expected,” Mannella said. “I would have hoped we would have won an extra game or two, but from two years ago when they won zero to last year, we were in a little bit of a rebuilding phase. Hopefully we can do better next year, but it’s going to be difficult.”
Mannella has 15 seniors overall and seven of them starters, plus an eighth being the second goalkeeper.
“Our boys fought, they kept in, we had some chances but they just didn’t finish,” Mannella said. “Soccer is a game that can be even or lopsided one way or the other. You can’t win if you can’t score.”
Marple Newtown 0 2 – 2
Upper Moreland 0 0 – 0
Goals: MN – Adam Azab (Raj Lohat) 51’, Marco Mesoraca 69’. Shots: MN 12, UM 3. Corners: MN 6, UM 3. Saves: MN – Josh Starr 3, UM – Ryan Varela 7, Brennan Coleman 3.
Top Photo: Marple Newtown’s Mike Smith beats Upper Moreland’s Chris Delaney and Kevin Walder on a header during their District 1-AAA first round game on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)