WALL – Wall boys soccer coach Garry Linstra has overseen one of the best performances in the Shore Conference over the last decade with respect to goal prevention, but that part of the Crimson Knights' game has been lacking more than usual this season.

While preparing to face a dangerous Long Branch Thursday, Linstra stressed a defensive focus at Wednesday’s practice and prior to kickoff Thursday at the 18th Avenue Complex, and his team gave him an unexpected, yet welcome, early return.

Brendan Barcas (15) battles Long Branch's Gibranni Padilla for the ball during Wall' 2-0 win on Thursday. (Photo by Matt Manley)

With defense on their mind, the Crimson Knights – No. 9 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 – scored two goals in the first 5:42 of the game before finishing off a shutout in a 2-0 win over Long Branch. Senior center midfielder Brendan Barcas scored both goals, including one 31 seconds into the game to give Wall all the scoring it would need.

“We needed to get back to playing team defense, not just the four guys in the back,” Linstra said. “The reason we’ve had success keeping teams out of our net the last few years is because there was a commitment to defending from everybody on the field.

“I don’t think it’s been bad overall. We’ve had some lapses at times where we won’t mark in the midfield and won’t pressure the backs enough. There was more effort and intensity today, a lot closer to the way we want to play going forward.”

Although a fast start on the scoreboard carried the Crimson Knights to victory – one that pulls Wall even with Ocean in the Shore Conference Class B North standings – it was early pressure in the midfield that led to the first goal. Barcas stole a pass on the Long Branch side of the midfield line, dribbled the ball between two defenders and into the 18-yard box, where he pulled up for a shot to the far left post.

“We came in wanting to play good team defense from the beginning, and I think that got us in a mode of pressuring the ball early, which led to some turnovers in their end,” Barcas said. “I was able to win the ball in the middle, and Joe Tashjy made a great run to hold a defender. When I saw that, I just held the ball, waited for him to commit and took the shot.”

A little more than five minutes later, Barcas struck again. Long Branch cleared the ball out of its own box following a Zach Hetzel corner kick, but the ball landed at the feet of outside back Zach Aylett. Aylet slid the ball back to Hetzel, who fired the ball into the box from the right flank. Barcas checked back to meet the ball, took a touch to his right and hammered a shot to the upper netting to give Wall a 2-0 lead and Barcas his ninth goal in 12 games so far this season.

“Brendan’s been trying to throw the team on his back the last few games and it looked like today, the team followed him after those first few minutes,” Linstra said.

“I feel like everyone on the team is doing their job and we’re all playing well,” Barcas said. “If a play needs to be made, I’ll try to make one if I can, but I always have confidence in the other guys out there with me.”

After the fast start, the Crimson Knights held off a Long Branch attack that took eight minutes of game clock to gain its bearings and become dangerous. Senior forward Guilherme DeNovaes fired two shots wide of the net and hit one on frame that Wall goalkeeper Jack Wishart saved with a diving stop. Manny Camacho also hit the crossbar on a direct kick late in the second half, the last quality chance Long Branch had that yielded a shot on the goal.

“They have some very skilled players, so our focus was just on picking up our man after they won the ball,” Barcas said. “We didn’t have to worry too much about their set pieces because they like to play quickly to feet off restarts, so we really just had to stay with our man.”

While Wall shifted to a more defensive approach, Barcas still managed to create three more chances for himself. He missed a close-range shot after settling a pass from younger brother Reilly in the first half, one-timed a volley out of the air from 35 yards out that sailed just high and wide of the frame, and also fired a shot to the right of the frame in the second half.

Barcas’ attacks came from the midfield while Wall used Tashjy up top with Hetzel and juniors Connor Fry and Gerardo Medina on the outside midfield, with Medina also playing in the middle. Hetzel has made a name for himself as a forward during his four-year varsity career, while Tashjy has typically played a defensive center midfield position for the Crimson Knights. With the recent shuffling of positions, Tashjy moves up to a forward position that he played while a sophomore at Christian Brothers Academy, where he scored four goals during the 2012 season.

“Hetzel has been a very good forward for us, but we’ve been playing with one guy up at the top, and he’s better when he’s up there with another player,” Linstra said. “We put Tashjy up there and he’s a big body who can hold the ball and distribute while we get guys making runs off him. It makes guys like Hetzel, Connor Fry, Medina, the guys out of the back, really dangerous when they can work off that.”

Wall recently squandered a two-goal lead against Ocean in what turned out to be a 3-3 draw. Thursday, the Crimson Knights defense made sure Long Branch’s 11 shots in the game did not hurt Wishart in net. The senior goalkeeper made four saves in earning the shutout, while center backs Matt DeGenova and Colin Nies anchored the back with outside backs Aylett and junior Zach Aylett running the flanks.

Ultimately, Linstra is hoping this alignment helps the Crimson Knights hit their stride over the next month as they look to build on a trip to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III final last year, when Wall’s season ended with an overtime loss to Allentown. For Wall to hit that stride, it will need to begin to post some cleaner sheets, like it did last year in allowing 21 goals in 23 games. Prior to Thursday’s shutout, the Crimson Knights had allowed 15 goals in 11 games, a pace that would yield the team’s highest goals-against total since 2008 if maintained.

On the bright side, Wall is scoring more frequently than it did last year. Should the Crimson Knights play 23 games, as they did last year, they would be on pace to score 52 goals, 33 percent more than the 39 they scored last year during a 14-3-6 campaign.

“Right now, we’re focused on getting these last couple games to get some more power points and hopefully play as many home games as we possibly can come tournament time,” Linstra said. “We feel like the ball is in our court at this point. If we can keep playing like we did today, we like our chances going forward.”

 

Box Score

Wall 2, Long Branch 0

1

2

F

Long Branch (7-5, 4-4)

0

0

0

Wall (8-3-1, 6-2-1)

2

0

2

Goals (Assists): (W) B. Barcas 1’, B.Barcas (Hetzel) 6’
Shots: Wall, 12-11
Saves: (LB) Solano 4; (W) Wishart 4