Boys Soccer – Santieno Harding Scores Twice to Give Ocean OT Win Over Long Branch
LONG BRANCH - Coaching his first high school soccer game as a varsity head coach. John Terlecsky watched anxiously as Long Branch's front six put pressure on his Ocean defense, especially the trio of seniors Juan Carlos Merino, Venancio Fernandes and Renan Azevedo.
Fortunately for Terlecsky and the Spartans - ranked No. 4 in the Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10 - they had a threat of their own that spoiled Long Branch's Shore Conference Class B North divisional opener on Thursday afternoon at Manahasset Park.
Junior forward Santieno Harding scored his second goal of the game on a header in the fifth minute of overtime and Ocean beat the No. 6 Green Wave, 2-1, in its season opener to give Terlecsky his first win as head coach.
"I knew they were going to be a tough challenge so I knew we were going to have to come out strong to defeat them," Harding said. "We did what we had to do and I'm proud to get that winning goal."
After conceding the tying goal midway through the second half and avoiding a close call in the final two minutes of regulation, Ocean settled into the overtime session and earned a free kick 40 yards from the goal on the left side of the field.
Junior defender Zach Scinta served up a free kick to the near side of the 18-yard box and Harding out-jumped the Long Branch defense to flick a header over Green Wave sophomore keeper Rodolfo Giron and into the far corner of the goal.
"When Zach hit the ball, I knew I had to go to it and finish it," Harding said.
Harding's first goal came less than two minutes into the second half on a free kick just outside the top of the 18-yard box. The left-footed Harding struck a low shot that skipped under the Long Branch wall - whose players all jumped in the air - and out of Giron's reach to the near side of the goal.
"I actually didn't have that in mind," Harding said. "I was trying to take it to the far post, but I miskicked it and it just went under (the wall). I'm happy it went in."
"He has showed flashed and scored goals in his first two years," Terlecsky said of Harding. "You can have confidence as a sophomore but it's still tough being out there with a bunch of seniors. It's a man's game and sometimes the difference between sophomore and junior year is as simple as just maturing physically and mentally to where you can handle the speed and physicality of the game."
Ocean's defense held its ground for most of the game while Long Branch controlled the majority of play and outshot the Spartans 18-6. The lone Green Wave goal was a penalty kick by Azevedo that tied the game in the 66th minute. Merino drew a foul just inside the penalty box and Azevedo ripped the penalty kick to the left side of the goal for his fourth goal in Long Branch's first two games.
"They're lethal," Terlecsky said of Long Branch. "Their front six are very tough and we were very concerned out it, so we probably played a little more conservative than I think we have to play. But they're experienced: Renan scored three goals the other day, Venancio scored about 20 last year and obviously they add Juan Carlos to the mix, so we were very concerned with all of them so we tried to get numbers behind the ball."
Fernandes had two dangerous opportunities in the second half, one just before Azevedo's equalizer and another with just over a minute left in regulation. The senior headed a cross just above the crossbar in the 64th and in the 79th, he ran onto a through ball slipped in by Merino.
As Fernandes approached the ball on the right side of the six-yard box, Ocean junior Mark Mauro slide in and knocked the ball away to prevent Fernandes - a 19-goal scorer as a junior in 2016 - from getting off a clean shot.
Thursday's win was the sixth in a row for Ocean against its longtime Class B North rival. In each of the past two seasons, the Spartans outscored the Green Wave 8-2 over the two regular-season wins, picking up 5-1 and 3-1 victories in each season. Thursday's game was decidedly more competitive, but Ocean's junior-heavy roster overcame Long Branch's senior three-headed monster.
"It's nice to know we can play a grind-it-out defensive game like that," Terlecsky said. "We thought with Tino up top and Stevie (Carton) and Erick (Gonzales) creating chances, maybe we can get a goal or maybe two and win the game that way."