Tiger boys’ soccer falls to Seahorses
MIDDLEBURY — For most of Friday’s Division I quarterfinal the No. 5 Middlebury Union High School boys’ soccer team outworked and outplayed visiting No. 13 Burlington.
But that was not the case during the final 25 minutes, when the Seahorses found their attacking rhythm.
The Seahorses — who entered the game with 6-6-2 record that included four one-goal losses Metro Conference powers and were fresh off a first-round road win at No. 4 South Burlington — scored two goals in the final 17 minutes, one with 2:09 to go, to rally for a 2-1 victory.
The 11-4-1 Tigers controlled the first half by pressing the Seahorses relentlessly. The work of central midfielders Ben Turner, Eben Jackson and Owen Palcsik, was pivotal defensively and offensively.
That trio, as well as backs Ben Crawford and Spencer Doran in the middle and Devon Kearns and Joseph Findlay on the flanks, read passing lanes to pick off passes, forced errant Seahorse passes, and won 50-50 balls.
Their efforts in turn created more offensive chances. Although much of the half was contested at midfield the Tigers outshot the Seahorses, 4-2, in the opening 40 minutes.
Coach Reeves Livesay praised their effort.
“I thought we played very well as a team, pressed very well as a team. We were able put them under maybe more pressure than they were expecting to face, and it created some really good looks for us,” Livesay said.
The pressure paid off in the 14th minute. The Tigers worked the ball to striker Tucker Moulton at midfield, near the right sideline. Moulton took a deft touch away from a defender and bolted diagonally downfield.
Meanwhile Jackson ran straight toward goal from midfield and found a seam, and Moulton led him perfectly behind the defense. BHS goalie Elliot Maher (three saves) came out to meet the breakaway. Jackson spotted him leaving the net, and from just outside the box drilled a left-footed shot into the upper left corner.
“Eben made a really strong run out of the midfield, really attacking that back line,” Livesay said. “And it was a real quality finish.”
In the 23rd minute a Turner serve to Moulton from the right side just missed connecting, and Palcsik also shot wide from distance on a feed from Owen Connelly as the half wound down. The Seahorses’ best chance in the half came when a corner kick bounced around in the Tiger box, but Kearns cleared the ball away.
Early in the second half the Tigers threatened on a direct kick, and Moulton made a strong run. But the tide began to turn 15 minutes in, when Seahorse Roshan Magar got a good rip at Tiger goalie Lucas Palcsik. Palcsik’s four saves all came in the second half, when BHS outshot MUHS, 8-5.
The Seahorses began to find more room to operate, possibly because the Tigers could not sustain the same level of pressure.
They also were a bit fortunate on the first goal. A long direct kick from midfield bounced around the box and then to striker Jake Manley, who poked it home from close range.
“They’re very athletic, and they have good size,” Livesay said. “When they’re able to sort of throw that ball in front of the net, it doesn’t work to our advantage when the ball is bouncing around in there.”
The Tigers had at least half-chances on a couple corner kicks, a direct kick, and a serve from Hunter Munteanu from the left toward Moulton, but BHS held firm.
As time wore down BHS midfielder Hussein Murbarak successfully contested a Tiger clear near midfield, carried toward goal and sent Manley in behind the defense. From the penalty stripe Manley found the lower right corner for the game-winner.
Friday marked the last Tiger soccer game for Turner, Moulton, Crawford and senior forwards Max Hirdler and Peter Orzech. That group helped MUHS to 21 wins over the past two seasons.
Livesay praised this years’ team, which saw an eight-game winning streak snapped on Friday.
“I think in the end we accomplished everything we set out to do. We had a really strong regular season. We put ourselves into a good spot going into the postseason,” Livesay said. “We played a fantastic game in the first round, and had a really, really competitive match today.”