Tiger boys’ soccer finishes ‘best season’ in years, falls in semi
MIDDLEBURY — Arguably the finest season in the history of the Middlebury Union High School boys’ soccer program came to an end on Thursday, when No. 5 Burlington blanked top-seeded MUHS, 2-0, in a Division I semifinal in what was the Tigers’ first appearance in a state semifinal in 34 years.
Despite the seeding, the result was not an upset. The 14-2-1 Seahorses’ only losses had come on the road to Champlain Valley and Essex, the teams that battled in double overtime in Thursday’s other D-I semifinal, won by CVU, 1-0.
And Burlington and CVU (15-1-1) played a tougher Metro Conference schedule than the 14-2 Tigers, the champion of the mostly D-II Lake Division.
But as well as the Tigers’ outstanding regular-season record, their two convincing earlier wins in the D-I tournament — 3-1 over Spaulding and 3-0 over St. Johnsbury — show they deserve to be considered among the state’s best.
In all, they finished 4-2 vs. D-I foes — their only other D-I setback came earlier this season in overtime at D-I No. 3 seed Colchester.
“Nothing can be taken away from the quality of season that we had, period,” said MUHS coach Doc Seubert.
But Burlington did control most of Thursday’s game. In the first half they outshot the Tigers, 11-0, and used their crisp passing and ball skills to maintain possession. They were particularly effective using flank backs Nghia Nguyen and Ntiruvakure Renovat and center back Tobias Muellers to distribute the ball.
“We knew Burlington was going to play like that,” Seubert said. “They’re just a good, solid veteran club with a lot of skill and composure.”
The Seahorse midfielders also effectively harassed their Tiger counterparts. The advantage MUHS midfielders Marrott Weeks, Calder Birdsay, Morgan Ingenthron and Christian Higgins usually give their team was not there, at least in the first half.
“Burlington moved the ball exceptionally well, and created real good pressure,” Seubert said.
Nguyen, the left back, also stepped into the attack and whistled a 24-yard, left-foot shot just wide in the seventh minute. The Tigers had a good chance to take the lead in the 15th minute when they worked the ball deep into the box, but neither Weekes nor striker Nico Mackey could quite line up a shot before the Seahorses cleared from a scramble. Shortly afterward, Muellers beat Tiger striker Akeem Pottinger to a well-struck through ball from Tiger left back Connor West.
BHS took the lead at 21:48. Striker Jackson Donald sent a ball across the top of the box to Nguyen, who again stepped into the attack. Nguyen’s low shot found the right corner from about 20 yards out.
The Tiger defense of Connor Collins and either Nick Leach or Oliver Clark in the middle and West and Max Livingstone-Peters mostly held the Seahorses at bay despite the pressure.
But after Livingstone-Peters blocked an Ajeing Deu shot and the Seahorses earned the third of their five first-half corner kicks, they made it 2-0. Tiger goalie David Burt (two saves) denied Tyler Short’s point-blank bid that followed, but the ball bounced out front to Deu, who tapped it home at 7:05.
As has been the case in many games this season (the Tigers scored three second-half goals in each of their playoff wins), MUHS raised its play after the break. Seubert also moved Shaw McCabe from striker to midfield, and the Tigers contested more effectively there. In the second half they outshot BHS, 12-5, and had a couple of good looks at goal.
“We made some good adjustments in the second half and I thought we created a few more chances,” Seubert said.
One chance came in the fourth minute on a free kick. McCabe served from the left to Weekes in the box, and Weekes headed to Ingenthron cutting in from the left. But Ingenthron’s one-timer sailed high.
In the 12th minute, McCabe took another free kick from the left, and a defender cleared it back to him. McCabe shot, but Seahorse keeper Will River (two saves) corralled it in the 12th minute. In the 14th minute, a defender at the left post blocked a five-yard Weekes bid.
Burlington then settled back into its possession game, and the time ticked away on the Tigers’ season.
“We’re 14-2 and we’re proud of it,” Seubert said. “We’d like to be 15-1 and playing on Saturday, but … I’m absolutely, totally and completely proud of what these guys have accomplished all year.”
The final horn also ended on the soccer career of an exceptional Tiger senior class. Thirteen will graduate: Burt, West, Nathan Billings, Higgins, Mackey, Will Koller, Pottinger, McCabe, Weekes, Collins, Arlon Staats, Leach and Micah Lynch.
Seubert credited that group for the team’s chemistry and work ethic.
“They came in real fit, and they just had a commitment from day one to accept the challenges before them,” Seubert said. “There was a lot of tremendous senior leadership in my captains, and a lot of tremendous senior leadership all over the field.”
Seubert described the season as “joyous” working with all his athletes.
“They were a throwback to another era in terms of their focus, and their responsiveness, their self-discipline,” he said. “It’s just a great group of kids.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]
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