SPRINGFIELD TWP. — The sight of one of his midfielders passing up two open teammates in order to try and dribble through traffic was enough for Springfield boys’ soccer coach Dan Meder.
So, at halftime, he gave new marching orders to his squad. The result was a barrage of quick passes and movement that turned a slugfest into a victory.
That sense of urgency powered Springfield to a 4-1 win over visiting Upper Moreland Thursday.
“We were holding the ball too long and we were indecisive in the first half,’ Meder said. “We’d have two easy passes and instead of choosing one of those, we’d dribble and lose the ball then be fighting and getting tangled up. That’s exhausting.’
Upper Moreland gave the hosts a battle and at times looked composed and confident. But with five starters sidelined with various injuries and a host of other guys playing banged up, there was only so much the Golden Bears could do.
“We’re a new, fresh team and from the beginning of the season until now, we haven’t had one complete team yet,’ UM coach Jack Knauss said. “I have two starters out for the season, another with a broken ankle, one with a broken wrist and another who’s due for an MRI. The other kids are trying, but they don’t have the skill level yet and don’t understand how to do certain things.’
Bears goalkeeper Connor O’Hagan is one of those guys gritting it out. The senior has a right leg injury that prevents him from punting or taking six-yard kicks, but it hasn’t stopped him from throwing himself in harm’s way.
O’Hagan made a tremendous double save in the sixth minute, first denying Corey Cottone then somehow recovering to snuff Riley Woron’s rebound effort.
After that sequence, Upper Moreland had the next best scoring chances of the first half. The first, which came off a long throw into the box, was only cleared thanks to some timely headers by Spartan defenders Igor McVeagh and Zachary Harley.
A few minutes later, UM sophomore Randy Meehl had a wide-open look from outside the box, but put too much on it and sent the ball well over the net.
“We’ll play 20 minutes great and it’ll all fall down,’ Knauss said. “We have 9th and 10th graders out there and they can’t hang the whole game. They’re trying and I love them but they don’t get all of it yet.’
Springfield’s Mike Bonacci forced O’Hagan into another save late in the half when his glancing header off a corner kick looked bound for goal.
Despite a few knocks, both doors remained unanswered and the teams had to settle for a 0-0 halftime score. While it wasn’t dirty by any means, the game did have a tough edge to it, with both sides not yielding ground without a fight.
“We decided to play with some urgency and move the ball and we started running with it,’ Meder said. “We seemed to take over in the second half.’
It certainly helped to get a quick goal.
The Springfield central midfield was the catalyst in the renewed effort, funneling short, quick and efficient passes to jumpstart the attack. Woron, who played more as a set-back holder, gave maximum effort and saw his work rewarded.
Less than three minutes into the half, Cottone left a golden pass for Woron and the midfielder capitalized, firing it in to crack the scoreboard.
“It was nice to see him score and get a reward for all his effort,’ Meder said. “He’s been the same kid in every game since he was in the ninth grade. He always has a big impact because he’s always working so darn hard. He’s in both boxes making plays, both sidelines making plays and I have no idea how he runs that much.’
Cottone doubled the score two minutes later when he heading a gorgeous piece of service from Colin Criniti. Criniti, who platooned with Will Kaufmann at right back because of a back line injury, sent an early cross in that picked out Cottone perfectly.
Springfield’s energy seemed too much for Upper Moreland to contend with as the half wore on.
“Our work effort’s got to improve,’ Knauss said. “That’s where we’re missing the boat a little bit.’
Knauss said his bench players have been playing with great energy and more often than not, it’s a substitute scoring the goals. He also said that could be due to the starters wearing down the opposition, but with the depleted bench, Knauss needs the same intensity from every player, regardless of their skill level.
In the 67th minute, Trevor McCaffrey took a shot that hit off O’Hagan’s head, leaving the keeper out of commission as the ball rebounded out to Bonacci, who buried the open chance. Criniti wrapped up his strong outing with a goal in the 74th minute when his cross off the right side hit the right breeze and sailed into the net under the bar.
“It just relieves the pressure,’ Meder said. “We’ve been in so many games where we’ll outplay somebody not do that. Then all of a sudden, the ball goes the other way and the game can go either way. I’ve seen a lot of games where the dominant team loses but I told these guys they went out and did what they should have done today.’
Upper Moreland pulled a goal back in the final minute when Kenny Mitchel engineered a great solo effort to get the Bears on the board. Mitchel, a junior, is one of the players Knauss mentioned when he discussed the improvements he’s seen through the injury-plagued start.
“The cohesion isn’t there right now, but we’re going to get it,’ Knauss said. “I can see things slowly happening but it’s going to take a few more games. They’re good kids too. We can’t get healthy but it’s no excuse. I’m positive, I can see things starting to happen and all I can say is look out for next year.’
While Springfield came out ahead, Thursday’s match was one where both teams could acknowledge they gave each other their best.
“With Jack, it’s always a battle and always a good game,’ Meder said. “The kids battle and they play hard. After the game, they can shake hands and say it was a good game.’