UPPER DUBLIN >> The formula has been pretty simple for Haverford girls soccer.
Annalena O’Reilly will get a chance, turn it into a goal and a stout defense will find a way to make it stand up. It worked pretty well in the regular season, so there wasn’t any need for the No. 17 Fords to change it when they visited No. 16 Upper Dublin in the first round of the District 1-4A playoffs Tuesday.
O’Reilly got the goal, and the defense held off a determined Cardinals side for a 1-0 win.
“We warmed up really well then in the first half, they were taking it to us, especially in the midfield and they were the better team,” Fords coach Jeff Jackson said. “We talked at halftime that there needed to be another gear and I thought they found it right off the bat and our star player changed the game like she always does.”
O’Reilly bagged her 15th goal of the fall, a solid number by any metric for the senior attacking midfielder. Weigh it against the total goals allowed by the Fords, which currently stands at 14, and it becomes more clear why Haverford’s formula works so well.
Still, there was the problems Upper Dublin presented in the first half and they were problems that certainly taxed Haverford. That was a result of Upper Dublin’s own winning formula at work, one that’s withstood a season-long rash of untimely injuries and players shuffling positions seemingly match by match.
“It was a great game, from what we’d heard about (Haverford) we knew it would be tight,” UD coach John Topper said. “We knew they were stingy defensively and we knew O’Reilly was a dangerous player. I was very happy with the way we came out tonight and the first 20-25 minutes, we had the better of play but we know if you don’t capitalize when things are flowing your way, it becomes a little more difficult.”
UD’s wins have started with a commanding effort in the center midfield and the Cardinals got that out of seniors Lexie Moss, Priya Kaneria and Tina Haig and junior Laura Pendleton, or at least when she wasn’t playing center back. Up top, Anna Desch, Julia Eustace and Emily Booth gave the Fords fits with their pace and seemingly endless runs right at the back line.
The only thing the Cardinals lacked was a finish. Alison Durfee made two saves and back Brooke Snopkowski threw herself in front of a shot destined for the back of an open net to make sure of it.
“Against a team like that, if you can put the first one away maybe they have to open up and we can create more chances,” Topper said. “They’re a very well organized and well coached team and if you go down a goal, they make it very difficult to generate chances.”
Haverford knew it had to ramp things up, but senior center back Rebekah Cunningham noted the Fords have been a second-half team all season. Off the second half tap, they attacked with renewed enthusiasm and put Upper Dublin’s backs under some early pressure.
The Cards defense, especially seniors Sascha Keitz, Katie King and Kaitlyn Brown, were very strong but Haverford would cash in the one that mattered. A textbook counter put the ball at O’Reilly’s foot just outside the box.
“I hit the through ball over to Niamh (Boyle),” Cunningham said. “She did a great job fighting through to get to the ball and find a way to lay it off.”
“She put it right to my foot and I was able to chip the keeper,” O’Reilly said. “There wasn’t much of an angle low, so I figured chipping it would be the best option.”
O’Reilly hit the ball perfectly, the shot curling up into the night but staying low enough to duck under the bar with 29 minutes left in the contest.
Haverford didn’t bunker behind the ball after the goal, but they knew they had gotten the first half of the formula down.
“The first 20 minutes of the game, that wasn’t our team and we knew we had a lot more potential,” O’Reilly said. “We kept it tied 0-0, so there was no reason we couldn’t come out on top of it.”
Upper Dublin wasn’t going away and Cunningham complimented the amount of fight and resolve the Cardinals showed up to the final whistle. The senior defender felt her team managed to maintain the lead thanks to good communication and some help from the players in front of the back line.
“We had to have a lot more people helping back, Annalena really helped us a lot,” Cunningham said. “The defense’s job is to keep the ball up, but we definitely needed at least one more player back to help us out.
“The first half, I don’t think we caught on to how they were playing and how they were getting the ball up. We talked at halftime and figured out what we needed to do to win this game.”
“It came down to more communication and staying together,” O’Reilly added. “We were very spread out in the first half and (UD) did that to us but we did a lot better in the second half.”
Haverford moves on to play top-seeded Owen J Roberts on Thursday. The Fords lost to OJR 1-0 earlier this season, but having seen what the top team in the district had to offer, O’Reilly and Cunningham were confident in their team’s chances.
Uppper Dublin’s season ends with 10 seniors graduating. Seven started on Tuesday and two reserves — Aidan Hopkins and Maddie Sanders — were starters before getting bit by the injury bug.
“I wanted them to know while it stings anytime your season ends, especially as a senior, they’ll look back and be very proud of what they accomplished for this program,” Topper said. “They helped really establish a reputation for Upper Dublin soccer and did it with class and character.”
HAVERFORD 0 1 – 1
UPPER DUBLIN 0 0 – 0
Goals: H – Annalena O’Reilly (Niamh Boyle, Rebekah Cunningham). Shots: H – 4, Upper Dublin – 3. Saves: H – Alison Durfee 3, UD – Rachel Adelman – 3.
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