BENSALEM >> Roman Catholic and Father Judge were in the midst of another vintage Roman Catholic and Father Judge soccer game.
It wasn’t the case of the first team to get a chance winning the game, but it did feel like a lone goal would decide the outcome. Closing in on 17 minutes to play in the second half, three Roman players each faced a decision to make.
Three players, three choices, three steps in the movement that ended up deciding the game.
Roman’s Aidan Meissler had the finishing touch, putting away Jared Dillon’s cross off a feed from Jared Fielding to lift the Cahillites to a 1-0 win Wednesday night at the United German Hungarians Club. Roman, the defending Philadelphia Catholic League champion, returns to the final where it will face La Salle on Saturday.
“It’s always a competition with us and Judge, it’s a rivalry we’ve had the past however many year,” Fielding, a junior outside midfielder, said. “It always feels like a championship game when we play each other. It feels good to get the win and to do it here in the semis.”
Like usual when the two teams play, it was fast, intense and physical. Roman freshman goalkeeper Kevin Tobin was excellent all game, but especially in the first half while the teams traded chances and also traded tackles in the midfield.
Good wide play is a luxury at the high school level, but it is one Roman has. Fielding said the key in the second half was the Cahillites getting the ball on the flanks and avoiding the congested central midfield the Crusaders favor.
“Judge has some great players,” Meissler said. “You have to stay in front of them and keep moving and pray that they don’t do something crazy. They play a lot of side-to-side and possession, we could let them do their thing but not let them get on the counter.”
Dillon, a sophomore but also a big body up top, drew plenty of attention from Judge’s defense. The forward was usually double or triple-teamed and wasn’t shy about mixing it up with his defenders.
Judge had plenty of quality players on the field too, with Sean McCormick, Nico Martinez, Marcelo Ibarra, Davis Habilaj and Adam Nork all having some good moments in attack. With most of those guys working in the middle, Roman felt getting the ball outside would lead to success on its side.
So, the sequence started with Fielding on the right side, where he faced the first choice.
“I knew I could have gone to goal with it, but I saw my left winger cutting in straight so I thought he’s putting this away if we cross it over,” Fielding said. “Our center mids create a lot of open balls and chances for us. They dump it or play smart balls to us and then we play through or use diagonal balls.”
Fielding decided to pass instead of carry the ball, finding Dillon in the 18-yard box. Here, Dillon had another choice of whether to shoot or make another pass.
“I thought it would be the better ball (to pass) and he would have a better chance of scoring,” Dillon said. “I figured I would give it to him. Usually, I’ll take those but this game I played it safe.
“The coaches don’t like it when you hit it with the outside, but I hit it with the outside of the foot into the corner and put it back across.”
Dillon’s cross was perfectly in line for Meissler, who was making a late run into the box and got the ball, burying it with 17:12 to play.
Meissler started the game in more of a defensive role but during a spell of rest on the bench, the coaching staff told him to press up the field and attack the goal. Once Dillon received Fielding’s pass, Meissler had to decided whether he was going to go or wait for the forward’s next move.
“I didn’t want to make (assistant coach) Jerry (Brindisi) mad, so I saw Jared get the ball and as soon as any forward gets the ball, I have to run,” Meissler said. “You get into that box and finish the ball and Jared played me a perfect ball and I just put it away.”
The senior was on the left wing during the buildup and in talking with Brindisi, they saw that the attention Dillon was drawing, along with a compacted backline from the Crusaders, left a lot of space on the flanks.
Roman’s defense did the rest behind an inspired effort from senior Artie Dolan in the middle. Senior Seth Stangler, freshman Kieran Donnelly and junior Nate Lindner also all played well in front of Tobin.
Saturday’s final, to be played at the South Philly Super Site, pits two teams that have a history in recent years. Roman knocked La Salle out last year in the semifinals, scoring with 45 seconds left in overtime and the teams drew 2-2 in their meeting during the regular season.
“They play down the flanks like we do, we almost play the same way,” Fielding said. “They look for certain targets, especially their left wing. We’ll have to try and shut down their outside balls and players.”