MIDDLEBURY — In a Friday clash between two veteran high school boys’ soccer teams with high hopes for 2012, host Middlebury topped visiting Vergennes, 2-0, in the opening round of the Tigers’ annual J.P. Carrara and Sons tournament.
Playing on Fucile Field, the Tigers got a goal in each half, one from sophomore Calder Birdsey and one from senior Akeem Pottinger, and limited the Commodores to three shots on senior goalie David Burt.
As a result, the Tigers will face Mount Abraham in Monday’s title game, also on Fucile Field, while the Commodores will meet Milton on nearby Legion Field. Lightning on Thursday postponed the first-round games until Friday, and the Carrara final and consolation games were moved from Saturday to Monday at 4:30 p.m.
Monday’s matchups were set on Friday when the Eagles edged Milton, 1-0. Eagle striker Ira Fisher’s run in the Yellowjacket penalty box drew a foul in the 16th minute, and Mount Abe midfielder Cale Thygesen nailed the penalty kick home.
A rebuilt Eagle defense made the advantage stand up despite a preseason injury to senior goalie Truman Daniel. Sawyer Kamman and Fisher shared time in the Eagle net. Mount Abe will bring a 1-0 record into Monday’s final, while Milton is 1-1.
Meanwhile, the Tigers’ victory came in their opener, while the Commodores were coming off a disappointing loss at Rice, a game in which they outshot Rice and fell in overtime, 3-2, when a Rice cross deflected in off a defender.
VUHS coach Kevin Hayes noted the Commodores entered the opening stretch missing players to injury and discipline issues, while a couple other starters, notably senior strikers Charlie Stapleford and Devin Hayes, are playing hurt.
“I knew it was going to be a rough week. We’ve just got to ride it out, play Milton on Monday and see how we do,” Hayes said. “We’re playing some good soccer, and it will get better.”
Certainly, VUHS showed flashes. Senior midfielders Zach Ouellette and Timmy Johnson were effective moving the ball, and defenders Cody Quattrocci, Josh Benning, Jordan Stearns, Ryan Morigliani and Eddie Devino held their own.
VUHS played hard and controlled the first few minutes of the game and most of the first 20 minutes of the second half. But, as Coach Hayes noted, possession did not often enough translate into opportunities.
“We had some good moments,” he said. “We just have to put it all together, put the ball in the net, generate some more offense.”
As the first half wore on the Tigers gradually began to assert themselves at midfield. Senior middies Marrott Weekes and Shaw McCabe played key roles as MUHS established its possession game and began to get good looks at VUHS senior goalie Stephen Paquette (six saves, including three gems).
Weekes said ball control was critical, especially in the first half.
“Once we got the ball settled, I think Vergennes was on their heels,” Weekes said. “As soon as we composed it was our game.”
The first two Tiger looks at goal came from senior forward Nico Mackey and junior middie Morgan Ingenthron, and did not pose major threats. After those, Stearns made a run forward that was denied by sophomore Tiger back Oliver Clark. Then MUHS started testing Paquette.
First, McCabe sent Weekes into the right side of the box, and Paquette had to jump up to knock aside a Weekes bullet aimed at the upper right corner in the 16th minute. Later, Paquette dove left to deny Pottinger.
It looked like VUHS might escape the half with a 0-0 tie, but as time wound down Weekes looped a ball into Birdsey, who chested it down between two defenders and drilled it into the lower left corner from eight yards out to make it 1-0 at with 14 seconds remaining in the half.
VUHS came out hard for the second half, although the Tigers earned the first great chance, a penalty kick at 32:55. But Paquette dove left to deny McCabe.
Despite the territory, the Tiger defense — Collins, Clark, and seniors Connor West, Nick Leach, Max Livingston-Peters and Christian Higgins all saw time — held firm and allowed only a couple bids, one by Ouellette on a direct kick in the 14th minute and another by Hayes in the 21st.
The Tigers reasserted themselves as the half wore on, something that MUHS coach Doc Seubert said was necessary given the Commodores’ effort.
“We played hard. We had to step our pace up to neutralize Vergennes. They came at us quick. They came at us hard,” he said.
At 10:35, Pottinger added the pad goal. Mackey served toward the top of the box, where Pottinger won a battle for the ball with a lone defender and then poked it home past the onrushing Paquette.
MUHS then reestablished its possession game to shepherd the win home.
“In the last few moments … we showed a little more composure,” Seubert said. “That was good to see. We’re a mature team. It’s an experienced team, so we wouldn’t expect anything else from these guys.”
As well as the Tigers’ experience, both for MUHS and club teams, Seubert said their attitude should be a plus this season.
“They just have a real nice positive approach with each other,” he said. “It’s a real nice reward for seniors who have put a lot of time into it.”
Weekes said the opening win should be good for morale, and he agreed the experience could pay off.
“We’ve got a lot of players who’ve played on the team for a couple years,” he said. “I think we’ve got a pretty good chance of going far.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.