FRANCONIA >> It’s not easy to score a goal in high school soccer.
That fact had been hammered home a few times too many for the Central Bucks West boys soccer team this fall as the Bucks entered Tuesday’s contest at Souderton without having scored on the season. While the Indians had been able to find the net, they didn’t need to be reminded the only thing harder than scoring a goal is scoring multiple.
Despite high energy, a flurry of chances and inventive play from both sides, the Bucks and Indians had to settle for a 1-1 draw Tuesday as they closed the first half of SOL Colonial Division play.
“We should be proud of our effort,” Bucks goal-scorer and co-captain James Lutz said. “We scored our first goal, it’s been tough, every game was 1-0 with us coming out on the wrong side of them. Hopefully the next time around, we’ll start to be on the right side of them.”
After a bit of a slow start both ways, the match livened up as Souderton’s (2-1-2) connective style went against the Bucks’ direct approach and both sides had to adapt to the other. In a weird soccer twist, CB West (0-4-1) scored in a first half where it felt the better chances came from Souderton and Souderton scored in a second half where West seemed to develop more opportunities.
Neither team felt it played poorly and both West coach Stefan Szygiel and Souderton coach Matt Benner felt the draw was a fair result. Of course, both would have loved to see a second ball find the back of the net but in terms of what was produced on the field, there was plenty of what they were looking for.
“It’s a typical game against Central Bucks West, we’ve had battles against them for years,” Benner said. “Like I said to their coach, games like this, you throw the record out because these teams know each other so well, they’re well coached, they play hard and organized and every game is tough, so we knew what we were getting into.”
West’s much-awaited first goal of the season was a good one, but also born of a misstep on Souderton’s part. An Indians throw-in was won off the head of defender Thomas Smith, but the crucial second ball fell to Lutz and with no Souderton players closing in, the senior midfielder unleashed a rocket from range that nestled into the goal midway through the opening half.
A four-year varsity starter, Lutz has been part of a PIAA semifinalist team, a District 1 champion and last year’s PIAA runner-up, but noted this is a bit of a different season with very unusual circumstances around it. Acknowledging the squad is in a bit of a rebuilding phase, Lutz is still determined to have his side finish strong the second time through.
“It’s a building year, but we want to get the new guys used to varsity, get them plenty of minutes and ready for next year,” Lutz said. “Hopefully that one goal gets us going. We’ve been getting close and I think the other guys will start getting them.”
Down at the half, the Indians first needed to rally then adjust to get back in the game. Defender Tyson Bui credited the speech the coaching staff gave during halftime as well as the team’s leaders for re-lighting the fire in the players.
On the field, Souderton made some tactical adjustment and modified its formation to try and use more wide space and make West adapt. The plan led to the tying goal, but only thanks to the team’s versatility and balance that have fueled their first half of the season.
“There’s a lot of players on this team who can play wherever we need them to play,” Bui said. “I played up top today and I’d never played there before. We’re able to move guys anywhere that can help us win and it’s helped our team to be really versatile.”
Souderton’s tying goal came off a string of passes leading to Dillon Barbieri sending a long pass to TJ Hibsman in the box nearing the midpoint of the second half. Hibsman, a senior, was able to fend off a defender before turning and ripping a shot past the onrushing keeper into the netting to level off the score.
Benner pointed out the team’s balance in the offensive end so far, but added that when Hibsman is on his game, the team seems to play at a different level.
“We go with TJ,” Benner said. “When TJ is humming and active and lively, he puts such quick pressure on a back line and our team plays with such confidence behind him.”
No draw in soccer is ever realized without some sort of contribution from the goalkeepers. Souderton’s Aidan McClure, a junior in his first year starting, had four stops including a denial of West’s Luke Parlee on a second half breakaway and was strong plucking balls from the air.
On the other side, West senior Luke Shank, also a first-year starter, was strong with five saves. On top of that, the keeper was aggressive and loud, something that Szygiel said he’s been working toward and the coach was pleased to see Shank start to embrace the command of his position.
They didn’t score, but West’s cadre of forwards all put in good spells of work as the coaching staff continued to rotate them in and out two or three at a time. The group varies in experience from sophomores to seniors but they all did things well minus the finish.
“We’re starting to click,” Szygiel said. “They’re learning and buying in. You can see it each game, they’re getting a notch better and more dangerous. It’s hard to score goals, that’s the reality. We’ve worked hard to find the right combination and we’re certainly closer than we were two weeks ago.”
Both squads turn around to start the second half of the season on Thursday. With the postseason picture still not entirely known, the idea for both programs is just keep trying to pull results.
Bui said it’ll be good to see how the Indians adjust to seeing opponents a second time around while continuing to build on what succeeded in the first half like their defensive play and ability to move the ball.
For West, it’s continuing to get better each match, keep applying the effort and waiting for the gates to open in front of goal.
“It’s never easy to go on the road to try and get a point, we certainly would have wanted three but I’m sure Coach Benner feels the same,” Szygiel said. “I think 1-1 was a fair result, I thought it was a really good high school game. It was back and forth, kids were working hard and I’m proud of the work we put in.”
CENTRAL BUCKS WEST 1, SOUDERTON 1
CB WEST 1 0 0 0 – 1
SOUDERTON 0 1 0 0 – 1
Goals: S – TJ Hibsman; CBW – James Lutz.