MUHS boys strike late to knock off Vergennes
VERGENNES — The Middlebury Union High School boys’ soccer team got late goals from midfielders Ben Turner and J.D. Goettelmann on Tuesday, both on headers, to snap a tie and get past stubborn, but injury-plagued, host Vergennes, 3-1.
The win moved the Tigers, who controlled play and outshot the Commodores by 32-6, to 6-1-3 heading into a game on Friday at Mount Abraham. The result also kept them at No. 5 in the Division I standings.
The Commodores dropped to 4-5-1, but remained solidly in seventh place in D-III and could wrap up a postseason home game with a win in one of their final three home games.
But a return to full strength would help: Coach Kevin Hayes opened the game with starting sweeper Jack Halpin on the bench, and during the game stopper Ben Kayhart (who moved back to sweeper on Tuesday) and midfielder Josias Salomao also hobbled off; neither returned. Leading scorer Ezekiel Palmer also had to take a break.
Hayes said it’s possible some of his walking wounded could have played more on Tuesday, but it was more important to preserve their health and hopefully clinch a home playoff game with a win at Missisquoi on Friday or at home on Wednesday vs. Spaulding.
“That’s the plan, to get healthy and win enough games to get us a home game,” Hayes said. “One more should get us a home game for the first round.”
To the Commodores’ credit, the defense of Kayhart moved to sweeper, midfielder Aaron Premont inserted at stopper and regular flank defenders Nathan Wojciehowski and Tucker Stearns kept MUHS at bay for most of the game despite the Tigers’ edge in play. And both of the late goals came after Kayhart left after colliding with MUHS striker Camden Simpson on a clean play.
“The whole first half he (Kayhart) did a nice job,” Hayes said. “It’s just unfortunate he got knocked. He’s just dealing with something that’s small for a month now. We couldn’t take any chances with that.”
From the Tigers’ perspective it was the second straight game, following a 1-1 tie on Saturday vs. winless Spaulding, in which they left some goals on the table.
Simpson, whose cross set up Turner’s game-winner, said the Tigers are working on varying their offensive approach.
“We’re just trying to distribute the ball more,” Simpson said. “Our best way of attacking is down the wing, and we do it too much to the point where it’s predictable. And we’ve really tried to work on the early crosses on occasion.”
Coach Reeves Livesay said the Tigers’ off-ball movement on the attack improved in the late going.
“We got the ball into some dangerous spots, but particularly early in the game I don’t think we had the right runs on the tail end of things,” Livesay said. “We weren’t getting our players and our bodies in the right position to really put it away.”
Certainly the Tigers dominated possession, with midfielders Eben Jackson, Turner, Owen Palcsik, Tyler Giorgio and Goettelmann constantly pressuring and disrupting the Commodores and moving the ball purposefully. Center backs Tucker Moulton and Ben Crawford snuffed out the occasional VUHS foray, and wing backs Joseph Findlay and Devon Kearns also overlapped to create pressure.
A Findlay overlap down the left side created the first goal. He squared a ball to middie Max Hirdler along the top of the VUHS box, and Hirdler fired inside the left post at 22:59.
VUHS countered at 18:41. Middie Jonathan Willis sent a long ball from the left sideline toward the right side of the Tiger box, and it bounced off a Tiger defender and dropped in front of charging VUHS sophomore Robbie Bicknell, who celebrated his birthday by drilling a 15-yard shot into the left side of the net.
Play evened for a stretch, and Tiger goalie Santiago Fernandez (two saves, both in the first half) snared a drive by VUHS middie Lance Bergmans at the 11-minute mark. Two minutes later VUHS goalie Jeffrey Stearns made the best of his 11 stops, tipping Simpson’s blast over the crossbar.
The Tigers finished with a 12-4 edge in shots in the first half, and Livesay believes they let up after their fast start.
“We have to be ready to play the full 80 minutes. I think we definitely took some breaks in this game. We started strong and then we sort of backed off, and we know Vergennes is going to play hard for 80 minutes,” he said. “When we backed off it turned the game into a real battle.”
Maybe Livesay reminded the Tigers of that at the half, and they outshot VUHS by 20-2 after the break. Despite the Tigers’ many chances, VUHS almost took the lead midway through the half, when Bergmans served strongly from the right sideline to Palmer at the far post. But Palmer’s one-timer sailed just wide, and the Tigers went back to work.
MUHS finally broke through at 11:03. Simpson made a run down the right side and found Turner cutting into the box. Turner headed the ball into the near side from five yards out.
Four minutes later Goettelmann sealed the win by heading the ball into the same corner on a Jackson serve on a restart.
Simpson said the Tigers are confident moving forward.
“As long as everybody stays healthy and stays open-minded, with a positive attitude, we should be just fine,” he said.
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