Upper Dublin tops Upper Moreland, stays ahead in American

Bob Raines--Montgomery Media Upper Dublin's Paige Lawton and Upper Moreland's Ashley Leinert race for the ball Oct. 8, 2015.
Bob Raines–Montgomery Media Upper Dublin’s Paige Lawton and Upper Moreland’s Ashley Leinert race for the ball Oct. 8, 2015.

WILLOW GROVE >> Upper Dublin senior outside midfielder Becca Watson had been waiting all season to finally put of them away.
The quick flanker was getting a lot of early chances in games but just couldn’t seem to knock a ball into the back of the net. So when the opportunity arose on Thursday, Watson made sure she got the point across.
Thanks to Watson’s early strike and a tactically sound goal from Paige Lawton in the second half, the Cardinals topped host Upper Moreland 3-0 to keep their hold at the top of the SOL American. It wasn’t a walkover however, as a young Golden Bears team tested UD for 80 minutes.
“Once we figured out how to overcome their offside trap and play through the middle, we started to play balls to the outside a lot wider,” Lawton said. “Our outside mids could run onto it and we finally figured it out toward the end.”
Lawton, a junor, described this year’s group as a technically skilled team. With her and senior Becky Haber in the middle and Watson and junior Tori Hoffner flanking on the outsides, the Cardinals (10-0-1, 9-0-1 SOL American) midfield is capable of getting the ball moving in a number of ways.
Teams trying to take chances against Upper Dublin can get burned, so Upper Moreland (5-6-1, 4-5-1 SOL) went about it by making the Cardinals have to work around them. Once the Bears got their footing after Watson’s goal, they kept pulling UD offside while keeper Kim Benge stifled Hoffner three times to keep it a one-goal game.
“We had missed touches, we weren’t able to connect the ball and because of that, the opportunities we had weren’t as dangerous as the ones Upper Dublin had,” UM coach Lisa Benvenuto said. “We just couldn’t get it to click today. But defensively, compared to the last match we had with them, we were able to slow their attack better than we have.”
Watson said the team has put more of a focus on getting the ball outside early in games because it can lose that option later on. Both she and Hoffner made some early runs on Upper Moreland’s back line, carrying the ball in to avoid the high offside trap.
After forward Elizabeth Lawton played her in, Watson made a nice run down the right side, cutting back in and ripping a shot that went through Benge’s hands and in.
“Our saying before every game is score early,” Watson said. “You want to get that out of the way as soon as possible and I finally did that for once, so that was a good feeling.”
After the goal, it was a frustrating first half for the Cardinals as they kept getting tagged offside and putting shots right at Benge. At the break, UD coach John Topper told his charges to be mindful of how the Bears were playing and how to best attack it.
“We weren’t playing the smartest when we were trying to get forward,” Topper said. “Their back line was sitting deep and we were still trying to play through balls when we should have been finding some forwards in the space in front. The girls were able to sort out what they were doing and how we wanted to attack them.”
Upper Moreland opened the second half with a charge, but the Cardinals back line held up with senior backs Olivia Ness and Devon Magarity making some timely challenges. After forcing the Bears back, the Cards won a throw in in Upper Moreland territory that led to their second goal.
Haber found Lawton on the throw and the junior played it back to Alexis Schneider who then played Lawton in with a great through ball. Holding her run just enough, Lawton broke through alone and was able to beat Benge for a needed second goal.
“In order for us to get our heads in the game we need to get a little roughed around,” Lawton said. “Then we’ll push back. It was an intense game, so it was a wake-up call.”
Upper Moreland has just two seniors on its roster and is already one game better than last year’s season win total. In fact, the Bears aren’t out of the mix for a District I-AA playoff spot so they’re hoping Thursday’s effort is a galvanizing force to carry them through the rest of the American.
The Bears don’t have a JV team and only have one team for 7th and 8th grade, so it’s been a process for Benvenuto to build the program. But the third-year coach has a team that plays hard and is starting to find its way.
“That’s where we see the confidence changing,” Benvenuto said. “Our junior class, when they were freshmen, a lot of them started because they had to. We’re looking at this game as a turning point.”
For Upper Dublin, it was another chance to play with some pressure, as they sit alone in first in the conference. It’s a team that has eyes on more than just making the playoffs, so taking charge of their conference race is a good way to prepare for that.
“We know one sloppy play, this game was only 1-0 going into halftime, so one sloppy play could have led to us getting a tie or even losing,” Lawton said. “We know we need to buckle down in these kind of games.”
Hoffner finished off the scoring with a fantastic solo effort. From the left side, the junior skied a shot to the far post, playing it just right to dip over the keeper and under the bar for the goal.
Topper felt that Lawton’s goal was what his team needed to not only gain control in the game, but gain confidence back and move the ball the way it needed to. He also thinks the little bit of pressure his team is playing with will only be a benefit in a few weeks’ time when the playoffs start.
“They’ve got a great chemistry, we’ve got a good mix of older girls and younger girls and they’ve all started to get on the same page,” Topper said. “It sounds cliche, but we’ve developed a sense of how we want to attack and we’re able to sub girls on and not really miss a beat with how we’re moving the ball around.”

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