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Lower Merion boys soccer blanks Parkland to advance to state final

ROYERSFORD >> The way Lower Merion has been playing defense this season, more often than not one goal would have been all that was necessary to come out on top. And that was all the Aces needed and got Wednesday night in a 1-0 win over Parkland that sends them to the PIAA Class 4A boys soccer championship game.

Sam Nyenka scored with 23 minutes remaining in the semifinal contest at Spring-Ford’s Coach McNelly Stadium and Lower Merion shut the Trojans down the rest of the way with a combination of tough defense and a continued attack that kept the ball in the Parkland end of the field.

The District 1 champion Aces (23-1) will play for the state title Saturday at 7 p.m. at Eagle View Middle School in Mechanicsburg against Seneca Valley, a 2-0 winner over defending champion Conestoga.

“We told our defense all we need is a clean sheet,” said Nyenka. “We’ll score. We’ve scored every game.”

And that’s what the Ace defenders and goalkeeper Crosby Johnson, who have allowed only eight goals the entire season, did for the fifth straight match and 18th time this season.

Nyenka booted in a rebound of his own initial shot.

“Sam is confident,” said Lower Merion coach Nico Severini. “I told him before the game that I thought this was going to be his day. You need one opportunity to put it away.”

That was far from the only scoring chance for the Aces, who have averaged over three goals per game. But Trojan goalkeeper Matt Link came up with 11 saves, many of them spectacular.

Among other stops, Link made a save on a point blank shot by Nyenka in the first half, made a diving one-handed save after a long run by Nyenka early in the second half and a leaping deflection of a long shot late in the game that then hit the crossbar.

“We did attack,” said Severini. “It would have been very nice to put another goal in. Kudos to their goalie. He made some great saves.”

“I think they’re going to do well Saturday,” said Parkland coach Scott Mang. “They have dynamic players and they’re lightening fast.”

Parkland (24-2-1), which won its first District 11 championship since 2017, did get the ball downfield a few times after Nyenka’s score, but wound up with no shots on goal and no corner kicks in the second half.

“We made a shape change,” said Mang. “I thought the last 15 minutes we had opportunities. We were dangerous. I thought we passed it pretty well tonight. I think we gave them a good game.”

The trip to the semifinals was the first for Parkland since it went 25-2 in 1998.

The Aces made it to the championship match in 1984, 1987 and 1988, winning the title in 1987. Now they will face an opponent that also advanced to the final last season and won the title in 2020.

“They’re definitely a very good team,” said Severini. “We’re a good team. We’ll have to see how the ball bounces. We have a great group of guys. They’ve know each other for many years.”

“We’ve been playing since we’ve been in middle school,” said Nyenka. “We won districts. We won the Central League. Now we have one more game to get it done.”

Lower Merion 1, Parkland 0
Parkland          0 0 – 0
Lower Merion 0 1  – 1
Second half
LM-Sam Nyenka
Saves: PK-11 (Matt Link), LM-3 (Crosby Johnson)
Corner kicks: PK-1, LM-9

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