BRISTOL — Tuesday’s rematch in Bristol between the Middlebury and Mount Abraham union high school boys’ soccer teams followed the same script as the first match on Sept. 10.
MUHS scored first, the Eagles fought back to tie and dominated much of the first half, but the Tigers took charge of the second half, scoring the only goal of the final 40 minutes to win, 2-1.
The victory boosted the Tigers to 7-1, the program’s best record through this point in the season in two decades. Coach Doc Seubert said the success is a byproduct — his senior-laden squad is enjoying itself and showing dedication to the sport.
“These kids are having a good time, and that’s what it’s all about,” Seubert said. “The record will speak for itself. They’re working real hard, doing the right things.”
Senior midfielder and co-captain Marrott Weekes — who assisted midfielder Morgan Ingenthron’s second-half game-winner — said the team’s success has a lot to do with smart, patient defense all over the field.
“Our defensive shape is what is really helping us. Instead of having to win balls one-on-one, we can just wait until teams make a mistake and then step in and counter,” Weekes said.
The Tigers also can be patient, skilled and tactically savvy with the ball.
“We like to let the ball do the moving for us, move the ball around,” Weekes said. “Then when we see an opening, go for it. And we’ve got some pretty talented forwards who can finish.”
Mount Abe coach Mike Corey would have liked to have seen a better second-half effort, but said he was not discouraged by the setback. For one, the Eagles were missing arguably their best player, versatile junior midfielder and defender Cale Thygesen, and skilled senior striker Jan Liegmann, both injured but expected back soon.
For another, Corey said the 4-4 Eagles’ persistence in sticking to the ball-control game plan will pay off, especially when they are back at full strength.
“I’m still very pleased with the way my team plays every game,” Corey said. “It’s what we work on. They play possession. They move the ball … I really feel like this team has great potential.”
Corey noted that his team did not finish with an outstanding record in 2011, just 6-4-4, but still took the eventual champion to overtime in a state tournament semifinal game on the road.
“We didn’t have a stellar record, but we were a pretty good team,” Corey said. “So I think that’s the key for us, to get everybody healthy, and to keep trying to play the way we want to play, which we are trying to do.”
Certainly, Tuesday’s game was competitive, although for the first 10 minutes it looked like the Tigers might romp. They possessed the ball with good work from Weekes, Ingenthron, striker Akeem Pottinger, and middie Shaw McCabe, and took a 1-0 lead five minutes in.
McCabe sent striker Nico Mackey into the box, and Mackey outmaneuvered a defender and Eagle goalie Truman Daniel (five saves) and tapped the ball home.
About 10 minutes in, the Eagles turned up the heat. Backs Sam Weaver, Gus Catlin and Whit Lower began to step up and win balls at midfield, and midfielders Alex McCormick, Sawyer Kamman and Theo Weaver and striker Ethan White began to disrupt the Tigers in their half of the field.
“It looked like we were a bit complacent after we scored … and they just stepped up the pressure,” Seubert said.
That pressure paid off at 25:35, just after Kamman won a challenge on the left flank. Kamman fed White outside the box, and White fought through two tackles and found the corner past Tiger goalie David Burt (four saves).
Despite the territory, however, the Tiger defense of Connor Collins and Oliver Clark in the middle and Connor West and Max Livingstone-Peters on the flanks allowed only one other first-half shot on goal, a long-range McCormick bid that Burt smothered. The first-half shots at goal finished at 6-5, Eagles.
But the second-half shots at goal favored the Tigers, 10-3.
“During halftime coach gave us a little talk and we got our spirit back,” Weekes said.
After launching the half’s first five shots, the Tigers scored on the sixth. McCabe tossed a throw-in into the box from the right flank, and Weekes headed it toward Ingenthron, cutting toward the left post about six yards out. Ingenthron left-footed a low shot back inside the right post at 24:56.
The Tigers kept pressing, and earned their third corner kick of the half in the 21st minute. Daniel then kept the Eagles in the game by knocking a left-footed Weekes bid wide to the left.
In the final 10 minutes the Eagles came back to life, and Ira Fisher, Theo Weaver and McCormick all threatened in the box. But Collins, Weekes and Clark made defensive plays, and Burt snared a corner kick to help keep the Eagles off the board.
Seubert said it’s never easy to defeat the Eagles, even when they are shorthanded.
“They were missing a couple key people, and that obviously hurt them, but you play the guys that are healthy, bottom line, so we’ll take it,” he said. “It was a great win today because it’s always tough to beat Mount Abe two times in a season.”
Corey would have liked the second half to look more like the first half.
“We kind of carried play for big chunks of the first half, moved the ball well. They defended well, and we had a couple of good opportunities go by the boards,” he said. “Second half was kind of like game one redux.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]