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Doumbouya’s first-half hat trick more than enough for Academy Park

UPPER CHICHESTER >> Felix Dadebo laughs and places a hand on the shoulder of Lansana Doumbouya.

Yeah, the senior central defender explains, it’s really nice to have a forward like Doumbouya up top for Academy Park, a point strenuously reinforced by the 6-0 win the Knights posted Thursday afternoon against Chichester, thanks to Doumbouya’s 17-minute, first-half hat trick.

But even the smile on Dadebo’s face understates the influence Doumbouya has had in recent weeks.

As a junior, Doumbouya excelled in midfield, a creative fulcrum who fueled forward Owen Ede’s 16-goal season. But three games — and three losses — into 2017 and the Knights had generated little attacking momentum with Doumbouya playing underneath the forwards.

So coach Dan Schultz adjusted, putting Doumbouya up top alongside fellow senior Kho Tuang to try and stretch the field. The result is six consecutive wins, including triumphs over Del Val rivals Penn Wood (which has beaten the likes of Lower Merion and Garnet Valley) and Interboro, plus a nonleague toppling of Upper Darby.

Doumbouya has 14 goals in that stretch, his 15 on the season surpassing the nine he scored last year. He also has six assists this year, on pace to exceed the nine posted last season.

“They’re really our best forwards,” Dadebo said of Tuang and Doumbouya. “Every time they get the ball, they make an opportunity to score. They are a really important part of our team and they always score the goals, every time.”

Tuang added a goal late in the first half Thursday as AP (6-4, 3-0 Del Val) led 4-0 at the break.

For Doumbouya, it’s not a bad early return, considering the bulk of his experience has come at midfield. Since he began playing with AP as a sophomore, the native of Guinea who models his game after the eminently pass-first German and Arsenal midfielder, Mesut Ozil, has always been in midfield. That’s also where he plays for his club side, West Philadelphia-based Junior Lone Star.

But when Schultz ascertained the need for change, Doumbouya didn’t think twice.

“It’s not that bad,” he said. “You’ve got to take one for the team. I do whatever is best for the team, so it’s not bad for me.”

He certainly appeared to relish it Thursday. In the eighth minute, he latched onto a through ball from Bastien Pigeot, rounded the goalkeeper and slotted home into a yawning net. The second goal was a carbon copy in the 15th, Daniel Pitt this time piercing the Chi defense with the feed. Then two minutes later, Tajhay Swaby sprayed a ball to the right wing that Doumbouya cut back centrally with before finessing a left-footed shot against the grain that left Chi goalie Cameron Flanagan no chance.

Particularly against the Chichester offside trap, the Knights feasted by overloading the central channel. That high-risk, high-reward maneuver by the Eagles (1-3, 1-3) was exploited on several occasions by AP; more often than not, once the right pass was picked out and Doumbouya latched onto the ball behind the defense, Chi had already forfeited its only chance to deny him.

“That’s most of what we’re trying to do,” Doumbouya said. “With me and Kho’s speed, most of the defenders try to play an offside trap, all we’ve got to do is just stay in the middle. When I get the ball, with the formation that we play, one person makes the run and you put the ball in the middle and it’s easy. It works almost every time.”

“It really just goes one way or the other,” Chichester midfielder Sean Pilkington said. “They beat us fast, but for the most part, we had a few good offside traps against them, and they just had a few lucky passes.”

Chichester created a few chances, but in just its fourth game under first-year head coach Mike Zurawski, the pieces have yet to snap together. Logan Sullivan carved out a couple of opportunities — a volley just after halftime blocked down in the six-yard box by defender Shemar Simpson, then a 2-on-1 in the 72nd that goalie Amadou Fofana (three saves) smothered.

“It’s really sometimes difficult,” Dadebo said. “We just have to stay organized all the time and stay in formation all the time when defending them. Sometimes they go wide, so we just have to pinch in and get it out.”

The Eagles shifted the balance early in the second, thanks in part to Schultz rest starting center back James Samura to prevent further injuries in the defense and swapping out the domineering central midfield duo of Pitt and Clifford Wrobeh.

But Swaby eventually added a fifth, drawing and cleanly converting a penalty kick in the 68th before Pigeot, who set up Tuang’s 30th-minute tally, got a deserving goal in the 75th. Andy Barweh did the hard work in midfield to win that battle.

While they’re in a rich vein of form, Doumbouya and company don’t sound satisfied in the least.

“The goal is to win the Del Val and win in playoffs,” he said. “That’s the main goal.”

In nonleague action:

Upper Darby 6, Bonner & Prendergast 0 >> Jorge Bayberan posted a hat trick, and senior defender Michael Peters notched his first varsity goal while helping goalie Steven Cueva (three saves) post a shutout. Mel Haynes and O’Shane Wiggins also scored for the Royals.

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