Speedy North Penn takes down Strath Haven

TOWAMENCIN >> The scouting report on North Penn warned to beware the Knights’ height. If that admonition wasn’t clear enough, four nervy set pieces in the first eight minutes of Tuesday’s District One Class AAA encounter with Strath Haven reinforced the point.

But one-dimensional teams rarely end up with the No. 8 seed in the postseason, as North Penn demonstrated.

The Knights used their speed and a pair of well-placed through balls to burn 25th-seeded Haven’s backline twice in four minutes and notch a 2-0 win.

For all the emphasis on set pieces early — North Penn earned three corners in the first 10 minutes and seven on the game — quickness rather than height did the trick. Liam Parker scored the first goal in the 29th minute, fielding a long ball that pinged through midfield before finding his feet, turning a defender and firing across the face of Dixon Damico’s goal.

North Penn's Noah Kwortnik, right, and Strath Haven's Alex Belanger leap for a ball in the box Tuesday. North Penn scored twice in the first half to notch a 2-0 win. (Montgomery Media/Mark C Psoras)
North Penn’s Noah Kwortnik, right, and Strath Haven’s Alex Belanger leap for a ball in the box Tuesday. North Penn scored twice in the first half to notch a 2-0 win. (Montgomery Media/Mark C Psoras)

The pick-your-poison conundrum played a direct role in Parker’s goal. So as not to push him toward the end line and concede a corner, the Strath Haven defender gave the speedy forward a path to goal on the inside for which Parker penalized him.

“On my goal, I could tell the guy was trying to force me (away) from the corner spot, but I got around him and got it in,” he said.

Musa Sheriff doubled the lead four minutes later on a boot from the back that bounced over a Strath Haven defender. Sheriff strode forward, took a touch around an onrushing Damico and finished into a yawning cage for insurance that the Knights (13-4-2) proved not to need.

“We watched a little bit of film of them earlier this week, and we saw that they had some kids who could play around with the ball well and move fast on the break,” Haven senior captain Will Haury said. “And obviously they’re a pretty big, pretty physical team. We knew what to expect; we just got outplayed, I guess.”

“When we’re playing in attack, we can also get a lot of chances from through balls,” Parker said. “And me and Musa’s pace and finishing gets us some good goals. All around, we’re firing on all fronts.”

Both teams had their chances and tested the opposing goalkeepers, but North Penn’s efforts had more venom in them. Damico stopped eight shots, and were it not for his vigilance on his line, the margin could’ve been much wider.

He rushed out to snuff a Nate Baxter chance in the second half after Baxter pounced on a defensive miscue. Damico also clawed away consecutive chances by Aiden Jerome and Baxter with eight minutes to play, the Knights still looking the more dangerous side despite Strath Haven’s desperation for a goal.

Though they got looks at goal, few serious chances materialized for a Haven (9-9-1) side that looked out of sorts going forward. They lacked their usual composure on the ball with lots of quick, frantic touches rather than sustained possession, and then either fired hopeful shots that Katz, returning from injury, gobbled up or that fizzled harmlessly errant.

Haury and Alex Maillet curled free-kick deliveries around the wall that Katz sighted and grabbed with ease, while a Jack Borbee volley from outside the box with 15 minutes to play looped straight into the gloves of Katz.

“I guess maybe we’re used to the turf and some bad bounces, maybe just a bad day of finishing,” Haury offered. “We got a few chances, but it just didn’t fall right for us. Tough day.”

With Haven needing to pour forward in search of goals, North Penn was content to slow the game down after the break. The central midfield axis of Owen Nakatani, Colin Jerome and Eric Rosenblatt did the job of controlling tempo ably in keeping the game compact. Haven’s Josh Mason and Nate Perrins made threatening runs up top, but neither managed to get a shot on target.

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