Boys Soccer – SCT Round of 16 Predictions
Like a few of the teams playing in Saturday’s round of 16, I’ll be working on a short turnaround, thus a slightly abbreviated version of the picks. Throw in the fact that my first-round picking performance left plenty to be desired and there is not too much you are likely to figure out by reading the words below.
One rough round – and 10-4 is not terrible, just uninspiring – won’t shut down the operation, so onward we march. Round of 16 Saturday is the best soccer day at the Shore and anyone who wants to can go catch three games tomorrow. This is the round that reveals whether or not there is a real surprise contender, so keep your eye on those teams in the teens and 20’s. Last year was a chalk year, but we’re already seeing signs of a different story this time around.
No. 20 Long Branch at No. 4 Wall, 10 a.m.
For Long Branch to keep on trucking through the Shore Conference Tournament, it should first start by scrapping whatever it did in the two regular-season meetings with Wall. Long Branch lost both meetings, 2-0, giving up an own goal in the first one and surrendering two goals in the first six minutes in the second meeting at the 18th Ave. Complex. Wall has put the clamps on Guilherme DeNovaes in each of the meetings, but the 20-goal striker has had chances to score in each, even if the window to operate was tight. DeNovaes and his teammates always give themselves a chance to score and it simply comes down to finishing.
With the way Wall is playing lately, it’s hard to see the Crimson Knights losing before the championship game at this point. This team has plenty of seniors who have been through the postseason battles and that core of players has shown it is ready to perform on this stage. While Long Branch will undoubtedly adjust, Wall is clicking at the right time and doesn’t appear close to losing. Give the Green Wave a goal this time, but give the Knights the win. The Pick: Wall, 2-1
No. 19 Marlboro at No. 3 Toms River North, 10:30 a.m.
I had Marlboro losing to Red Bank in the first round by a score of 3-1, which would have been on the money had Bryan DaSilva decided to skip school on Thursday. The Mustangs senior erupted for a whopping five goals against the Bucs to lead Marlboro to a resounding 6-3 win on the road. Red Bank has had some difficulty against teams that are well-schooled in exploiting the offside trap, and Marlboro apparently did their homework if they scored six goals. As a program, Marlboro is now 13-3 over its last 16 SCT games, which includes a four-year absence from the tournament.
Awaiting is a Toms River North team that did not mess around in the first round, beating Asbury Park, 6-0. The Mariners began the season on a scoring spree, and while that unsustainable pace has not continued, the Mariners have been keeping teams out of the goal lately to make up for it. Toms River North faced an empowered underdog last year when No. 20 Red Bank took the Mariners to penalty kicks in last year’s round of 16, so they know the drill. Marlboro is very much a live underdog and there is something about the uniform that turns its players into world-beaters for the last two weeks of October. There won’t be another six-goal game from either team this time, but there could be some more fireworks. The Pick: Toms River North, 3-2
No. 18 Toms River East at No. 2 Manalapan, 11 a.m.
One coach who saw all of Class A South said that, despite a modest record, Toms River East is the most talented team in the division, and that’s a division that has had a very good year against outside competition. The Raiders have shown what they can do when they put everything together, and it began well before the win over Holmdel on Thursday. The Raiders have pulled out ties against Toms River North, Toms River South and Brick Memorial and what Toms River East showed Thursday is that it can finish off games.
When it comes to finishing games, Manalapan has been so good at it on the aggregate, but lately, it has been more of a problem. The Braves have a had a few days to recharge their batteries, reflect on a 1-1-2 finish to the regular season and unleash the beast again as they try to repeat as SCT champions. The vaunted Manalapan field will be ready to go, which should make things interesting for a Toms River East team that is very accustomed to turf, and that could play a factor if the Raiders don’t adjust quickly. The field giveth and the field taketh, but Manalapan doesn’t give away much. The Raiders got a whale of a draw in this tournament and if they can survive Saturday, they can survive anything. The Pick: Manalapan, 3-1
No. 12 Central at No. 5 Shore, 1 p.m.
Central will have to take the field less than 24 hours after its first-round win over Lacey and play a Shore team that basically got to rest during the second half of a 5-0 win over Point Beach. One player who will be rested for Central is senior Blake Czajkowski, who returns from a red-card-related hiatus. With one of the Shore Conference’s best offensive weapons back up top, Central again becomes a dangerous team with lots of scoring ability and a quality keeper in Bryan Jones in front of an improving young group in the back.
Shore shook off some finishing woes to put up five goals on Thursday, which came a week after the Blue Devils could not finish a goal in a 0-0 tie with St. Rose. Few teams in this tournament are as balanced around the formation as Shore is and while J.T. Kessler is a 29-goal scorer, the Blue Devils have a number of finishers around the field. The Blue Devils will likely control possession, which means finishing will be paramount. It’s hard to see Central getting shut out in this one, so the magic number in this game for Shore is at least two. In fact, I see two goals being a very magical number in this one, and after that, flip a coin. Central was an uncertainty without its best player in round one, but are a real problem back at full strength. The Pick: 2-2, Central in penalty kicks
No. 11 Freehold Twp. at No. 6 CBA, 2 p.m.
A game between two of the giants of Class A North is always competitive and pretty much a toss-up. There is not much else to say, other than that the two teams know each other well and the one that gets to a few more 50-50 balls and gets that one bounce will likely win the game. Freehold Township escaped Colts Neck in penalty kicks and looks like a team that is happy to get away from its field and play on the king-sized field at CBA. The Patriots’ speed plays better with all of that space and they can knock the ball around enough to play to that speed.
CBA bounced back from a loss to Holmdel by taking care of Donovan Catholic, but that loss might have revealed some offensive flaws with the Colts. CBA scored one goal in each of the meetings against Freehold Township this season and the variable in each was how many Freehold Township scored. If the Patriots finish one - especially early - it might be enough to jumpstart them on the road. Both teams are good enough to win the whole thing and have just enough questions to be concerned about this match-up. Freehold Township is a little more senior-heavy and looks like a different team on the road, and that might be the difference. The Pick: Freehold Twp., 1-0
No. 10 Matawan at No. 7 Jackson Memorial, 2 p.m.
After tearing through the Class A Central season for its first division title in program history, Matawan disposed of Manasquan in impressive fashion in the first round, just as Jackson Memorial did with Pinelands. This round-of-16 game features two standout defenses, with a Matawan unit that has given up 11 goals in 15 games (0.73 per game) and a Jaguars group that has given up only 13 goals in 19 games (0.68 per game). Whichever way this game goes, it is probably 1-0 and that’s assuming it does not go to penalty kicks.
Matawan’s strength is in its midfield, which is likely to control the ball in this game. Lots of teams reflect on games against Jackson Memorial by insisting that they dominated play, but at the end of the day, the Jaguars don’t care about how much of the possession they control. They will defend, they will hold onto the ball when it allows their goal-scorers to set-up runs and the ball is going to go forward to the likes of Andrew Jozwicki, Joey Stoltenberg and Mike Schoener. Jackson has also been able to get other players, like Tyler Kessler and Anthony Nappi, heavily involved in scoring and expect them to find somebody to step up to score the game’s lone goal. The Pick: Jackson Memorial, 1-0
No. 25 St. John Vianney at No. 9 Point Boro, 2 p.m.
The St. John Vianney players have not taken kindly to being seeded No. 25, routing Rumson-Fair Haven in a regular-season game on Tuesday and then knocking off No. 8 Brick Memorial in the first round. Alex Politi has been one of the Shore’s more underrated scorers and continued to carry the scoring attack with two goals against Brick Memorial. The Lancers have also defending as well as any team in the conference and a one-goal outing against a high-powered Brick Memorial team is a great day at the office.
Point Boro squeezed by St. Rose in the first round and the formula was nothing new for the Panthers, who extended their school-record winning streak to 14 games on Thursday. While Vianney relies heavily on one goal-scorer, Point Boro has a number of scoring options and will need to lean on that balance against a stingy Vianney defense. The grass surface will slow Vianney down some, so expect another battle that involves Point Boro on one side. On the other side is a Lancers team that most of us – your’s truly included – probably underrated coming into the tournament. The Panthers are 8-0 in one goal games and that zero gets harder and harder to hold up. The Pick: St. John Vianney, 2-0
No. 16 Ocean at No. 1 Toms River South, 4 p.m.
These two SCT mainstays meet for the third straight year in the round of 16, with Ocean winning each of the last two. Ocean buried the Indians 8-2 two years ago, but last year’s meeting was a 2-1 overtime win for the Spartans. Toms River South will get Ocean on its home turf for the first time during this streak, which should benefit the Indians to some degree. Ocean has improved on the turf this season thanks to a lot more home games on its two-year old artificial surface, but Toms River South is built for the surface.
Ocean advanced thanks to some overtime magic against Freehold and will need to crack the solid defense and goalkeeping of yet another hot team. The Indians back four is as organized and composed as any in the tournament and Kollin White is always in control in goal. With that said, that unit will have its hands full. Freehold coach Anthony Sessa said of Ocean juniors Wadneson Alexis and Marlhens Nasanes, “It doesn’t matter what you do on defense. They are going to get shots.” With that being said, Freehold did a pretty good job making the Spartans earn it and I expect Toms River South to do the same while getting some payback from the last two years. The Pick: Toms River South, 2-1
First Round Picks Record: 10-4