BUCKTOWN >> It was the ball Arjun Kaushik had been waiting all night for.
That it had taken 95 minutes to get to him didn’t matter, the Upper Merion senior captain instead quickly assessed what he would have to do with it once it arrived. Kaushik turned, readied and coiled, unfurling his body parallel to the ground as he went for the volley and the glory that came with it.
Kaushik’s stunning goal off a Luke Wintersteen cross vaulted the No. 3 seed Vikings over No. 2 Spring-Ford 3-2 in a double overtime thriller in their PAC boys’ soccer semifinal.
BOYS SOCCER FINAL (2OT): Upper Merion 3, Spring-Ford 2
Arjun Kaushik wins it with a stunner off a feed from Luke Wintersteen pic.twitter.com/4jlAQT4DeA
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) October 18, 2023
“I was waiting all game for that back-post cross and it finally came,” Kaushik said. “I didn’t really think about it too much, it was just instinct.
“It was quite high, I knew I couldn’t take a touch because I was in the box, so I just had to contort my body that way and volley it.”
The goal sends Upper Merion through to its first-ever PAC final for an all-Vikings tilt with No. 1 seed Perkiomen Valley, a 3-1 winner over Upper Perk in the other semi. Doing so required UM’s prolific offense, which had the second-most goals among all PAC teams, to overcome the PAC’s stoutest defense in the Rams and their league-fewest 11 goals allowed.
Upper Merion’s Arjun Kaushik rises up for a header against Spring-Ford during a PAC semifinal on Oct. 17 at Owen J. Roberts. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)
Upper Merion also won for the eighth straight time after starting the season at 5-5, something Kaushik said he and his fellow captains viewed as unacceptable. The PAC Frontier Division champions in 2021, the Vikings had taken a year to retool in 2022 but knew they were much better than a .500 team this fall.
“We saw the potential that we had,” Kaushik said. “The season didn’t start how we wanted it to, we were 5-5 and that’s absolutely not where we wanted to be. Now, we’ve extended our win streak to eight and it’s showing the potential this team has.”
UM’s frenetic pace also proved an interesting foil to Spring-Ford’s more measured approach, with the Vikings continually flying to every 50/50 ball and looking to push it up the field off every win. At times, it had the Rams totally off their game but Kaushik was quick to point out UM had plenty of respect for S-F’s speed and athleticism, so there was no time to get fancy with the ball.
Upper Merion struck first with a quick counter leading to Sander Urias dropping the ball to Benjamin Wintersteen for a finish midway through the opening half. The Vikings carried the lead to halftime, although holding it would prove a tenuous task.
Spring-Ford came out much stronger in the second half and equalized for the first time six minutes into the half. A corner kick led to a recycle, a Cole Preschutti shot saved out for a rebound and finally Matt McCree punishing the loose ball to level the score.
Rams keeper and captain Logan Hyduke, who made five saves, knew the match wasn’t over either time his team fell behind.
“We always have the heart to bring it back,” Hyduke said. “It’s nice to see us work as a team and bring it all the way back. We got here, 13-4, 11 goals against – lowest in the PAC – so it is what it is. We lost to a good team, they played better than us today.”
Upper Merion took the lead back almost immediately with defender Sean Rogers getting the flick on another ball from Urias. The Vikings held that lead almost the rest of the way until they found themselves in a familiar scenario.
With 3:57 left, a ball went into a cavalcade of players from both teams, an Upper Merion leg caught a Spring-Ford body for a trip and foul to give the Rams a penalty kick. Chris Collins buried it and it was on to overtime.
“We showed great git and determination,” Kaushik said. “The last four minutes, it happens, we’ve been giving away penalties in the last few minutes but I’m proud of the boys.
“It just meant we had to do it the harder way.”
Luke Wintersteen’s efforts might get lost in the finish, but the junior fought down the right flank to get past a defender before delivering the ball Kaushik had been waiting all night for.
“I scored on a bicycle kick in training but never in an actual game. So in overtime, to go to the final? I’m proud of it, but also of my entire team,” Kaushik said.
UPPER MERION 1 1 0 1 – 3
SPRING-FORD 0 2 0 0 – 2
Goals: UM – Benjamin Wintersteen (Sander Urias), Sean Rogers (Urias), Arjun Kaushik (Luke Wintersteen); S-F: Matt McCree (Cole Preschutti), Chris Collins. Saves: UM – Dominik Doan 6, SF – Logan Hyduke 5