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Roman Catholic’s defense the difference in PCL semifinal win over Archbishop Wood

Roman Catholic's Sebastian Giraldo tackles Archbishop Wood's Bob Hennessey during their PCL semifinal on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

BENSALEM >> Roman Catholic had a tough enough time dealing with Archbishop Wood in the regular season.

So when the Cahillities found themselves matched up against the Vikings in the Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals, they knew what they were getting into. Roman prides itself on its defensive play and Wood was going to stress that defense for all it was worth.

The backline came up big doing its day job and even chipped in the lone goal as Roman topped Wood 1-0 at United German Hungarians Soccer Club on Wednesday night.

“Their counter and their team speed is just crazy, sick fast,” Roman Catholic coach Ray DeStephanis said. “We were missing a fast defender for us, so we were a little extra back on our heels. We weathered the storm and our defense has been right there with La Salle’s all season and I think we showed that.”

The win sends Roman to the PCL final, scheduled for 3:30 Sunday, against La Salle. It’s a rematch of last year’s final, won by La Salle, and for the Cahillities, getting back there was their goal all season.

Archbishop Wood’s Hugh Lynch moves the ball up field against Roman Catholic’s Sebastian Giraldo during their game on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

Doing so required first advancing past Lansdale Catholic on penalty kicks, then trying to slow down Wood’s high-octane attack. With its backline not at full speed, Roman knew it was going to require a team effort to get the task done.

Senior defender Mike Galdo recalled being caught a bit off-guard in the first meeting with Wood.

“When we practiced to prepare for this game, we worked harder, we worked on set pieces because we didn’t make them work out last game,” Galdo said. “We were just trying to push our line up as far we could. They’re a fast team, they have some skilled dudes out on the wing, so we felt if we pushed up we might be able to catch them offside.”

The first half was fairly even with both teams’ keepers keeping their respective sides in it. Wood’s Connor Ford was busy early, making three saves before the break while Roman’s Kevin Tobin had an impressive sprawling save late in the half to keep it scoreless.

Wood had some chances, generated through its main attacking core of Christian Petro, Cody Taylor, Bob Hennessey and Hugh Lynch, but saw a lot of passes thwarted by Roman. The Cahillities excelled at winning balls all night, and Wood wasn’t able to find the inventiveness needed to dissect Roman’s defenders.

“It was not our best effort, that’s for sure,” Wood coach Hugh Kelly said. “We needed to be smarter with some of our passes and we didn’t execute. The final pass wasn’t there, a lot of it was random at the end. A lot of times we tried to hit the home run ball.”

Roman Catholic’s Nate Lindner and Archbishop Wood’s Bob Hennessey battle for a header during their PCL semifinal on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

At the half, Roman felt it could have done better in containing Wood. Galdo said the team made a couple adjustments, including pressing the fullbacks further up the field and leaving him and Kieran Donnelly as the last two men back.

They didn’t want any of Wood’s speedsters or creators to have clear runs toward goal and Galdo also credited the midfield for its work stuffing Wood.

“If they didn’t push up, we could never get up to and win the balls, they’re the ones that worked it all out for us and made our lives easy,” Galdo said. “Joe Tarducci in the midfield, that dude wins every ball in the air. He makes it so much easier for Donnelly and me.”

Roman has plenty of big, strong players so it would make sense it wanted to try and exploit set pieces. A Wood foul deep in its own end gave Roman a free kick from the left wing with about 15:30 left on the clock.

The initial service was solid, finding Mark Iannacone at the far post. While he didn’t have a clear shot, the junior was able to head the ball back across goal, where Galdo found it and hammered it into the open net.

“We were just waiting for the ball to bounce our way and it did,” Galdo said. “It’s what we work on at practice. I’m just looking for a flick or someone getting a touch on the ball. I saw him head it and thought this was my chance to hit it forward. Maybe it hits off someone, deflects it either goes in the net or out of bounds and it’s not a counter on us.”

Roman Catholic’s Tom Bagnell gives a consoling pat to Archbishop Wood’s distraught Jake Nubbermeyer after Roman’s 1-0 win in the PCL semifinals on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

While the Vikings fell short of getting to the PCL final, their season is not over. They will play for the District 12-3A title on Nov. 2 with a chance to get back to the state tournament for the second straight season.

One thing the Vikings have shown this season is an ability to bounce back after losses.

“We’ve done that and I would expect them to continue to do that but it’s up to them how quickly we learn from this and move on,” Kelly said. “We’ll have to correct the mistakes we made. We have good senior leadership but a fairly young team. We work hard, we’re a blue-collar team and we’ll continue to play that way.”

Roman and La Salle will meet for the second straight season in the PCL final. DeStephanis and Galdo said it’s fitting they’ll face the Explorers. It’s the fourth straight year in the PCL title game for the Cahillities’ seniors and they’re motivated to go out with a trophy.

“We don’t think the world owes us anything,” Galdo said. “We think it’s only right to play La Salle, it wouldn’t be the same if it was anyone else.”

ROMAN CATHOLIC 1, ARCHBISHOP WOOD 0
ROMAN CATHOLIC 0 1 – 1
ARCHBISHOP WOOD 0 0 – 0
Goals: RC – Mike Galdo.

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