Boys Soccer – SCT Final Preview
Shore Conference Tournament Championship
Saturday, Nov. 1, 8 p.m.
Memorial Athletic Complex at Summerfield Elementary School, Neptune
No. 4 Wall vs. No. 11 Freehold Township
Wall (14-3-2, 9-2-1 in Class B North)
Head Coach: Garry Linstra
SCT Championships: None
Last Final Appearance: 1998
Road to the Final: Defeated No. 29 Jackson Liberty 4-0; tied No. 20 Long Branch 1-1 (4-2 in penalty kicks); defeated No. 5 Shore 2-1; defeated No. 25 St. John Vianney 1-0 (OT)
Freehold Township (11-5-2, 8-5-1 in Class A North)
Head Coach: Todd Briggs
SCT Championships: 2 (1 co-title)
Last Final Appearance: 2008
Road to the Final: Tied No. 22 Colts Neck 0-0 (4-2 in penalty kicks); defeated No. 6 CBA 1-0; defeated No. 19 Marlboro 1-0; defeated No. 2 Manalapan 1-0
Why Wall Will Win
It has been 10 years since Wall has won a tournament championship of any kind and, despite all of their history and success, the Crimson Knights have never won a Shore Conference Tournament championship. This Wall group, however, has a wealth of experience back from last year’s team, which lost in overtime of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III final at Allentown and advanced to the SCT quarterfinals by winning at Christian Brothers Academy.
To put it simply, these Crimson Knights are battle-tested and never was that more evident than on Thursday night, when Wall overcame a St. John Vianney team ballooning with confidence and won in overtime to reach the program’s first final since 1998. During its run to the final, Wall survived two close calls, defeating Long Branch in a shootout to go with the extra-time win over Vianney. When the game is at its most tense, Wall has shown an ability to remain composed and find a way to win, not just during this tournament, but all year long.
A primary reason for the success in tight games is Wall’s organized back four, which has been at its best during the latter part of the season. Following a 3-2 loss to Red Bank on Oct. 2, Wall has allowed only two goals over its last eight games after giving up 15 in its first 11 games.
In fact, all 15 of those goals came in five games against Red Bank twice, Toms River North, Ocean and Manasquan, and Wall went 1-3-1 in those matches. Beyond those five games Wall has given up two goals in 14 games with 12 total shutouts. Seniors Matt DeGenova and Zach Aylett are returning starters on that back line – Aylett on the outside and DeGenova in the center with new starter Colin Nies. Along with those three seniors, junior Zach Ferry has stepped in to complete the back line that has jelled together in front of third-year starter Jack Wishart in goal.
On the attack, Wall has some ability to control the ball in the midfield, but has recently looked to get the ball forward to senior forward Joe Tashjy, who is usually the biggest player on the field and uses that size and foot skill to hang onto the ball and get it to runners. Junior Connor Fry and senior Zach Hetzel have benefited by making those runs off of Tashjy, while senior Brendan Barcas, junior Gerard Medina and sophomore Dan Frish-Harmon have held down the middle of the field behind the three attackers. Barcas, himself, is dangerous with the ball in the middle of the field and leads the team in scoring.
Against a Freehold Township team that has had scoring issues – even during its SCT run (three goals in four games) – Wall will continue to be stingy when it comes to allowing goals if it can recover against Freehold Township’s speed on the counter attack. With a confident, capable goalkeeper to handle a breach in the back, Wall should feel pretty good about getting through 80 minutes without giving up much.
Why Freehold Township Will Win
Like Wall, the Patriots had designs of making this a special year from the beginning of camp, although they did not lay the same foundation that Wall did with a postseason run a year ago. The regular season did not go as planned for Freehold Township, but the team’s failures forced them to ask some questions about how they were playing and how they could get better. The result has been one of the top defenses around, one that has posted five straight shutouts – four coming during the Shore Conference Tournament run.
Since goalkeeper Brian Shushkovsky returned from a wrist injury that caused him to miss the first six games of the season, he has spearheaded nine shutouts and has allowed seven goals in 12 games. Six of those goals have come in two 3-2 losses, one to Middletown North and another to Freehold Boro. One possible concern for the Patriots might be that, since Shushkovsky’s return, they have not won a game when they have allowed a goal. On the bright side, with nine shutouts, goals are very hard to come by.
A change to the defense has had as much to do with Freehold Township’s goal prevention as Shushkovsky. The Patriots played most of the season with a traditional stopper-sweeper formation, with Adrian Barajas deep and Mike Staklinski at stopper. Late in the season, senior captain Chase Berkowitz moved from center midfield to the back and the Patriots switched from the stopper-sweeper formation to a flat back four, with Berkowitz and Staklinski in the middle and Barajas playing a deep defensive center midfielder, according to head coach Todd Briggs. Although Tashjy has a stronger build, Staklinski has the height to keep Tashjy from dominating the air and his matchup with the Wall forward could be the key to the game.
Freehold Township’s speed on the outside is its best weapon, particularly from Mike Maltese and twins Kyle and Jason Czajkowski. Maltese’s specialties are his straight-away speed and his strong, accurate leg, which makes him dangerous getting up the field and sending crosses into the box for the two Czajkowski brothers.
Both Kyle and Jason are above average leapers with speed and either is a threat to put a head on a cross, just like Kyle did in the wins over CBA and Manalapan. Tim O’Donnell is also a speedy forward who can finish, while Nick Facendo is another standout athlete who has become more involved. Sophomore Sean O’Donnell and junior Chris Hoskins have been key contributors off the bench as well.
Junior center midfielder Mark Fasano will be tasked with leading Freehold Township’s keep-away effort against a strong defensive group in the middle for Wall. Freehold Township is likely to look for room on the outside, but it is still a group that can play in the middle, if it is not too worried about disrupting Wall in the middle. Wall has been the more consistent offensive team of the two, but the defensive roll the Freehold Township on is very real and has shut down offensive attacks that rival that of Wall.
This game screams scoreless draw (no penalty kicks in the final) and that would be the official pick if it wasn’t a total cop out. Since I am not planning on running and hiding from picking a winner, the forecast calls for a one-goal affair (as well as miserable weather). Freehold Township’s athleticism and skill in the back gives them the edge between the two defenses, but Wall’s offense is better at its best. St. John Vianney was able to disrupt that attack, and on the whole, Wall hasn’t really put that attack together for 80 minutes since the first-round win over Jackson Liberty. With a team that has been motivated by redemption all season long, this seems like the perfect time for Wall to play a complete game and win its first tournament championship in a decade. The Pick: Wall, 1-0