Boys Soccer – Wall Outlasts Middletown North for Sixth Straight Win
WALL TOWNSHIP - No team in any sport wishes to start its season with one win in its first six games, and the Wall boys soccer team is certainly no exception.
While a 1-3-2 start to the 2016 campaign was not a welcome development, it forced the Crimson Knights to address some issues in their formation and may turn out to be a necessary wakeup call on the way to a big season.
Wall - the No. 10 team in the latest Shore Sports Network Top 10 - continued to flourish since that slow start to the season with a 1-0 win over No. 8 Middletown North on Monday.
Senior Dan Frisch-Harmon scored the game's lone goal in the 10th minute and after goalkeeper Nolan Cloney helped stave off a flurry of Middletown North chances, the Wall defense took the game over with a strong second half.
"It wasn't the start to the season that any of us envisioned, obviously, but I think everyone on the team knew it was just a rough patch and that we'd get things figured out," Frisch-Harmon said. "I think if nothing else, it made us rethink the way we were playing and forced us to change up our formation. We knew if we wanted to stay in the race in B North, we had to get it turned around quickly and start winning a lot of games and we've been able to do that."
Although Wall got off to a strong start, the Crimson Knights had to survive a steady Middletown North attack for most of the first half before stabilizing the game in the second half. A quiet start to the game ended when junior Nick Surgent played a long pass through the air to Frisch-Harmon, who made a run through the middle of the Lions back line.
Frisch-Harmon gathered the ball at his feet, slipped through the final two defenders and beat goalkeeper Scott Weigel to the lower right corner of the goal.
"I saw they had a high back line and I thought it was a good opportunity to make a run on them," Frisch-Harmon said. "Nick gave me a great ball and all I had to do was get to it and put it in."
Immediately following Frisch-Harmon's goal, the Lions went on the offensive and applied a wave of pressure on Cloney and the Wall defense. The climax of the flurry was a double-save by Cloney on two shots inside the six-yard box, with the play ending when Middletown North Liam McGregor struck a sitting ball with over the crossbar with his left foot from six yards away.
Just minutes later, McGregor broke through the defense and had a clear shot at Cloney, but the Wall keeper smothered the shot attempt.
Frisch-Harmon's goal was the first shot of the game and following the concession, Middletown North turned loose nine unanswered shots before halftime.
"The message at half was to stay together as a defense," Wall coach Garry Linstra said. "They are going to put pressure on us, but we need to keep our shell, keep our formation and know where their strong players are.
The second half was a more defensive 40 minutes and Wall controlled Middletown North's runs up the flank while also managing the midfield and the air. After conceding a 9-1 disadvantage in shots to the Lions during the first half, Wall played Middletown North to an even 3-3 tally in the shot department.
Wall's new formation was once again a key factor in a win. The Crimson Knights began the season playing a 4-4-2 and after several tweaks have settled on one extra defensive center midfielder at the expense of one of the forward spots.
"We went back to a formation that we played a couple years ago when we made the Shore Conference semifinals," Linstra said. "I think we realized that at our core, we're a defensive team and we have the guys who excel in that style and in that formation."
Now that the Crimson Knights have settled into the season and defeated Ocean and Middletown North in a 10-day stretch, the Class B North standings have opened up. The Crimson Knights appeared to be well behind the pace after a 1-0 loss to Middletown North and a scoreless tie against Manasquan earlier in the year, but the six-game surge coupled with some recent struggles from early pace-setters Ocean and Middletown North have given both Wall and Manasquan a chance to win the division title.
Wall will host Manasquan on Friday, two days after the Warriors host Ocean in another key Class B North match.
"The last thing I told them at half, I said, 'Look, this is huge,'" Linstra said. "You're still in the division. This is a great game for power points and for Shore Conference (Tournament) seeding and it's just going to let people know that we may have struggled a little bit but we're coming on pretty strong.'"