Tiger boys control all but scoreboard in first match

MUHS SOPHOMORE BACK Ben Longman moves in on Rutland’s Rilee McCullough during Saturday’s game on Fucile Field. Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School boys’ soccer team on this past Saturday hosted Division I Rutland on Fucile Field in a season opener that was both encouraging and frustrating for the Tigers. 

MUHS came out on top of all the numbers except on the scoreboard. RHS senior midfielder Ben Cerreta netted two first-half rebound goals against the run of play, and they stood up as Rutland came away with a 2-1 victory. 

TIGER MIDFIELDER IVER Anderson gains position on a Rutland player and makes a move during a boys’ soccer game on Fucile Field on Saturday.
Independent photo/Steve James

RHS did so despite the Tigers’ advantages of 25-14 in shots and 11-4 in corner kicks. RHS goalie Colin Rider also made a dozen saves, and he received aid from the framework, as the Tigers hit posts twice and the crossbar once.

MUHS Coach Chris George, whose team has contended in Division II over the past couple seasons but was hard-hit by graduation, was philosophical afterward. He acknowledged the Tigers could have finished better and been a little tighter in the back, but expects a team integrating new parts to improve. 

“We didn’t play poorly,” he said. “At the end of the day what matters most is that we’re playing our best soccer at the end of the season.” 

TIGER JUNIOR SAM Weenk unloads a shot during Saturday’s opener vs. Rutland. RHS goalie Colin Rider made the save.
Independent photo/Steve James

For example, George noted only one starter returns on defense, senior center back Gus Hodde, who lined up in the middle with classmate Noah Konczal-Doherty, junior Jake Mitchell on one flank, sophomore Ben Longman on the other, and sophomore Jonathan Kafumbe in goal. 

George said the rebuilt back line will sort itself out once the players get a little more seasoning. 

“You’ve got four guys back there starting their very first game,” he said. “I’ve got all the confidence in them. Experience just takes time to build.”

At the other end, George said a couple players missed the target who “100 out of 100 times” find the net during practice.

TIGER SOPHOMORE GOALIE Jonathan Kafumbe flies through the air to make a save on a Rutland shot during the Tigers’ home game on Saturday.
Independent photo/Steve James

“We generated good chances. We really did,” George said. “We made good decisions in the box, and sometimes that’s just how it goes.”

Meanwhile, the Tiger midfield, where senior Milo Rees and junior Ollie Choudhury return and to which senior Eddie Fallis has successfully transitioned from attack, dictated most of the play, especially in the first half, during which the Tigers outshot RHS, 18-6, and earned a 10-0 edge in corners.

“We’ve got really high-quality midfielders. It’s all really experienced guys,” George said. “We’re going to be a good attacking team.”

And the Tigers got off to a brilliant start: Fallis scored 1:06 after the opening kickoff. Senior forward Caleb Burrows burst down the right side and served to the middle. Rider blocked an initial bid from Fallis, but Fallis won the ball in a scramble and poked it home from a few yards out. 

Six minutes later Cerreta equalized. RHS earned a free kick to the right of the MUHS box that the Tigers could have marked better. Kafumbe made an initial save on an Owen Hackett blast 18 yards out from the left post, but the rebound bounced to his right, and Cerreta was quick to the ball to poke it home. 

RUTLAND GOALIE COLIN Rider comes out to deny a strong bid by Tiger senior forward Caleb Burrows on Fucile Field on Saturday.
Independent photo/Steve James

Kafumbe, who made seven saves, preserved the tie with an outstanding play 15 minutes in, ranging 35 yards out to snuff out a breakaway as he collided with an onrushing forward.

But mostly Tigers carried play over the next 25 minutes. Rees forced a rebound on a direct kick, but RHS cleared from a scramble. Rider saved a Fallis bomb from 20 yards out, Burrows was just wide from Fallis, a Sam Weenk header found the crossbar, Hodde hit the post after a corner kick, and Fallis broke in alone and hit a post.  

At 5:25 Rutland took the lead on a rare counter. Kafumbe made the save on a long shot from the right side, but lost control of the rebound. Cerreta hustled in and tapped the loose ball home at the left post. 

The Tigers kept coming. Weenk was well set up by Anderson five yards off the left post, but his hard shot went right at Rider. In the half’s final minute Rees fired high on a corner kick. 

In the second half Rutland carried a slight edge in play as the Tigers appeared to be pressing in the less favorable sense of the word. RHS was also playing with more belief and a steady breeze at its back.

“They grew in confidence, and our guys were trying to push and do things that maybe we shouldn’t have tried to push and do,” George said. 

SENIOR MIDFIELDER EDDIE Fallis pokes home this early rebound goal to give the MUHS boys’ soccer team the lead over visiting Rutland on Saturday.
Independent photo/Steve James

Raider defender Kyle Hamed snuffed out a couple promising rushes, but the Tigers did generate a couple good chances. The best came with eight minutes to go, when Fallis touched a ball past a defender along the top of the box and ripped a hard shot at the right side of the net. But Rider dove across to knock the bid wide. 

In all, George said he expects as the fall goes on the Tigers will continue to improve and will win games like Saturday’s. 

“There’s a big difference between the first game of the season and the 14th game,” he said. “As we gain more and more experience playing in tough games, we’re going to do better and better.”

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