It is hard to fathom a more difficult schedule to open a season than the one the Middletown South boys soccer team played at the outset of 2018. The Eagles opened with Holmdel - the team that has been No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 since winning the Shore Conference Tournament last year - and also had to play current No. 4 Ocean, No. 8 Long Branch and No. 1 CBA within their first six games.

Second-year Middletown South coach Rob Grella described it as a sink-or-swim moment for his team and wondered how his junior-heavy squad would respond to a 1-5 start against the brutal schedule: would the competition make them better or discourage them to the point of checking out early on the season?

The Eagles gave their coach a resounding answer over the last week, winning three straight games against ranked teams to climb above .500 for the first time this season. With consecutive wins over Manalapan, Manasquan and Freehold Township to cap a five-game winning streak, Middletown South earned the third Circle Chevy Team of the Week Award of the current season.

During its 1-5 start to the season, Middletown South lost to Holmdel, Ocean and CBA by a combined score of 10-2 and gave up a 3-1 lead in the final 10 minutes in a 4-3, overtime loss to Long Branch. In four of their five losses, the Eagles were either winning or tied at 1-1 - they led Ocean 1-0 at halftime and were tied with CBA, 1-1, in the second half.

After falling to CBA, the Eagles got on track by beating Point Pleasant Boro and Middletown North and jumped out to a 2-0 lead on No. 10 Manalapan in pursuit of a third straight win. The Braves rallied to send the game to overtime, but junior Danny Minze sent the Eagles home winners with a golden goal.

Senior Jonathan Santos then scored the difference-making goal in a 1-0 win over Manasquan, which was ranked No. 10 at the time, on Sept. 29. The apex of the five-game winning streak came on Tuesday, when Middletown South topped No. 5 Freehold Township, 2-0.

Middletown South's streak ended Thursday against another surging team in Howell, so to qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament, the Eagles will have to go no worse than 1-1-1 against the trio of Raritan, Colts Neck and Marlboro before the Wednesday cutoff.


2018 Team of the Week Winners

Week 1: Long Branch

Week 2: Manasquan


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