Northampton Still in Finals Following Squeaker Loss
By WAYNE CREED
Cape Charles Wave
June 8, 2015
With Northampton and Westmoreland County’s Washington and Lee both set to travel to Radford for the state 1A Soccer Championship, the seeding for the event was still not settled until these two teams met for a critical game Saturday night (June 6) on the Eastern Shore. It was a classic match up, with a W&L squad bringing a sturdy, conservative midfield attack, hoping to slow down the high flying, fluid style of the Northampton Yellow Jackets.
There was little feeling out, as from the outset, both teams attempted to set the pace early. Northampton made several early pushes to break the W&L defense, but were generally slowed by a much disciplined group of mid-fielders led by Senior Jacob Daiger. At 17:28, a misplay and lapse by the Northampton defense allowed for a quick rush and goal by W&L forward Tirso Artunez.
With a one-nill lead, W&L went into a classic defense posture reminiscent of old school Arsenal or the great Milan teams of the 1970s. With sometimes five men back, they were hoping to control midfield and thwart the Northampton rush. This was good in theory, until Northampton’s passing and speed began to get its rhythm. With articulate away from the ball movement, and constant pressure from mid Malik McCaskil, the Jackets kept up constant pressure. This paid off with a brilliant goal at 7:00 by Jesus Malando-Lopez. With the score tied at 1, and momentum clearly swinging their way, the Jackets continued to pressure and pound the W&L defense, clearly on its heels and not sure what to do about Northampton’s speed and attack. Despite strong pressure, and several dangerous attempts by Northampton, the first half ended 1-1.
CONTINUED FROM FIRST PAGE
Hoping to regain composure and control, the W&L squad attempted to push the ball past midfield. This more aggressive stance worked well until star midfielder Sammy Pineda, doing what he has done his entire career, bulled past the defense and fired a perfect score, burying the ball in the right hand corner. At 29:37, the Jackets held a 2-1 lead. However, Pineda injured his left plant leg during the shot, and had to leave the game.
With Northampton continuing to attack, and W&L forced into a more offensive mode, we were treated to some of the best soccer we have seen all season. Each team showed why they were respective champions, with crisp passing, strong defense, and blazing sideline speed. Northampton’s James Teeling on defense provided a solid back, allowing the Jackets to press deeper into the the W&L zone. Billy Martinez and David Henderson used brilliant ball handling and excellent striking to expose the W&L defense and goalie Jeremy Turner several times. At the nine minute mark, Martinez fired from 20 yards, and the blast bounced off the crossbar. Instead of a dagger to the heart, this bit of luck seemed to energize the W&L attack.
At 8 minutes, a breakdown in the defense left Jackets goalie Jose Ibarra all alone against a two man break. With timing, speed, and pure aggression reminiscent of Tim Howard, Ibarra slid into the attack, robbing the ball from the W&L forwards. Although they escaped disaster here, at 7:32 a similar breakdown in front led to the tying goal by W&L forward Tirso Artunez (his second of the night).
The teams fought back and forth, hoping to score, yet careful not to provide any easy opportunities for the opponent. With overtime seemingly inevitable, W&L received a penalty kick with only 26 seconds left, and from only about 21 yards out. Jacob Daiger, who had been impressive with monstrous throw ins (sometimes traveling 25 to 30 yards), and a big leg, readied to take the PK. With Northampton lined up, Daiger fired a beautiful blast that bent perfectly, and fortunately for the Jackets, missed the upper 90 by just a few inches. With that miss, the teams went into overtime.
The format for overtime was two 5-minute periods, followed by two 5-minute sudden death periods, and if needed, then penalty kicks. At this point, both teams were completely gassed, operating on pure heart and adrenaline. The first two periods were a battle of midfield prowess, with great ball skills, passing, and design by the Jackets, and equally tough defense by W&L. Despite brilliant work by Teeling and Kaival Patel in the back, and dynamic movement by Billy Martinez, Mariano Gaytan, and Omar Montalvo, the first two overtimes and first sudden death ended tied 2-2.
The last sudden death overtime was more of the same, with each team leaving it all on the field, gassed, struggling, but somehow managing to dig deep for a rush after rush. The fans were on their feet for the final five minutes, each side frantically cheering on their teams. Sammy Pineda, still limping, gamely fighting through the pain, showed the kind of heart that has made him a team leader for this Yellow Jacket squad. On the other side, Jacob Daiger, with long blonde hair and headband, seeming to channel Alexi Lalas, played the entire game, never giving up on any play (what else can a coach ask for?). With 37 seconds left, it was a final rush, and a nifty slide kick by Daiger into the lower right corner that slid past Ibarra for the W&L victory.
Despite the loss, the Jackets are still headed to the state finals in Radford. The semi-finals are Thursday and Friday, with the championship on Saturday.