Eagle boys’ soccer starts fast, but falls to Tigers
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School boys’ soccer team moved closer to a Lake Division championship and remained in the running for high Division II seed, when the Tigers this past Friday turned back a challenge from visiting Mount Abraham, 3-1.
The Tigers improved to 8-2-2 heading into a Wednesday game at Rice. A win there would clinch the Lake title, according to Coach Chris George, who also pointed out the Tigers are undefeated on the road this season.
The D-II standings are tightly bunched. As the week opened MUHS stood in sixth with two games remaining, but could easily move up higher and earn a second home playoff game.
The Eagles dropped to 4-5-2 despite Friday’s competitive effort; Green Mountain Valley (5-1) was set to visit them on Monday. Mount Abe must leapfrog a few teams to earn a first-round home playoff game.
At MUHS’s Fucilie Field on the 13th, the Eagles started fast, earning territory and four corner kicks in the first eight minutes, a couple of them forced by striker Judah Jackson’s assertive play. Tiger goalie Jonathan Kafumbe jumped to his right to deny Liam Lazare from just inside the box on the best chance, and Finley Kaeck and Luke Mayer also had looks at goal.
Assistant Coach Peter Coffey, filling in for absent Coach Rider MacCrellish, lamented that the Eagles, as had been the case in an earlier 3-1 loss to the Tigers in Bristol, did not find the net in the early going.
“It’s the same thing as the first time we played them. We created some great opportunities, and we just didn’t finish them. We’ll continue to work on that, and hopefully it will come to fruition,” Coffey said.
Tiger striker Eddie Fallis changed the complexion of the game in the 15th minute. He burst through a knot of defenders into the right side of the Eagle box and drew a foul to earn a penalty kick. Fallis took it and laced the ball high into the upper right side; Eagle goalie Evan Audy had no chance.
The Eagles had a chance a minute later, when Kafumbe went high in a crowd to punch away a direct kick at the left post.
But the tide began to turn. By the end of the half the Tigers had outshot the Eagles, 10-6. About a minute after that play, Audy jumped to his left to deny Tiger defender Gus Hodde’s bid, and Eagle defender Sam Mangini did well to clear the ball from a scramble on the following corner.
The Tigers made it 2-0 with 5:17 to play in the half. Fallis eluded two defenders and reached the end line about 20 feet to the left of the Eagle net and served to onrushing teammate Caleb Burrows for a one-timer on the near side.
Audy kept it a two-goal game at the half a minute later by beating Fallis to a through ball. He made five saves and could not be faulted for the Tiger goals.
The Eagles evened play in the second half, with Lazare and Jackson pressing the Tiger backline. MUHS central defenders Hodde and Milo Rees excelled, especially Rees, who found himself matched up one-on-one with the speedy Jackson a number of times.
“Milo is a hero. That kid is fantastic. The kid is a leader on an off the field,” George said.
Kafumbe, who finished with three saves, also made a fine stop on Eagle James Graziadei’s 22-yard free kick six minutes in.
The Tigers added their final goal in the half’s 14th minute. Middie Oliver Choudhury touched down an Eagle clear about 40 yards out on the right side and bolted through the defense to the end line. Instead of shooting he whipped the ball across to Fallis streaking to the left post for another one-time finish.
“I think it says a lot about the team, especially the star players, when they choose not to shoot from 12 yards out to play it to a teammate who has a better position,” George said. “They just want to score goals. They don’t care who does it. I think that has really taken us to the level we’re at now. We’re just hitting our stride.”
The Eagles’ Graziadei scored with 11 minutes remaining on a corner kick. Maverick Livingston served from the right side, and Graziadei’s strong header went high into the left side off Kafumbe’s outstretched right hand.
The second-half shots were even at seven apiece. Coffey said the Eagles bounced back after struggling some later in the first half.
“I liked our positioning, our shape. We lost it a little bit at the end of the first half, but we talked about it at halftime and picked it up and started to take a little more control of the midfield than we had in probably the last 15 minutes of the first half,” he said. “It was a back and forth game from that point.”
George pointed to the Tigers’ first goal as a difference-maker.
“The first 15 minutes I thought Mount Abe came out really strong. And then after we scored that definitely changed,” George said. “We have great players who create great opportunities, and goals change games.”
He added the Tigers are looking forward to the home stretch and the postseason.
“We’re feeling confident. I think generally we’re feeling loose,” George said. “I think we’re in a great spot to finish the job in the Lake Division and win it. We’re close to that. And then do well in the playoffs. We’ll see.”
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