If one was anticipating a repeat of last season’s fisticuffs during Wednesday’s meeting between the Millville and Vineland high school boys’ soccer teams, they went home disappointed.
The rival teams remained level-headed and were on their best behaviors during the card-free contest, which Millville dominated en route to an easy 2-0 win at the DiTomo Athletic Complex.
While Millville’s play wasn’t physical, it was aggressive and the strategy paid dividends in the first half. The Thunderbolts (2-2-1) had three shots on goal during the first half, one that found the back of the net 20 minutes in when a lob shot by sophomore Austin Higbee found its way over the head of Vineland goalkeeper Brandon Alvarez.
“I’m just glad we beat Vineland,” Higbee said. “I thought I was going to hit the crossbar. That was my first goal of the season so it felt really good. I just wanted to get my team off to a good start.”
While Millville’s offense was churning, Vineland (1-4) had trouble getting started as it failed to register a shot on goal in the opening 40 minutes.
Vineland coach Dan Kuzma reminded his players of the rivalry during his halftime speech, trying to pump some life into his team.
“We’ve been more intense,” Kuzma said. “That’s what I was telling the guys at halftime: ‘This is Millville, you should really want to play hard.’ And they did — they came out in the second half and they really did try.”
Vineland had four shots on goal during the second half, but Millville goalkeeper Sean Matias denied each opportunity.
While Vineland tried to climb back into the game, Millville put a comfortable distance between the two teams when Terron Mitchell was credited with a goal at the midway point of the second half. The goal came off a fluky play that even the Vineland coach had a difficult time describing.
“I would love to look at the tape for that one,” Kuzma said. “I guess our goalie had come out (of the net), one of our players was on the line and the ball ended up going sky-high in the air. As they tried to clear, it came off one of our defenders and into the net. It’s something I’m gonna have to look at to try to explain.”
Although it was a tough loss for Vineland, the squad still boasts a 44-22-13 record in the all-time series against Millville.
Despite the setback, Kuzma saw a lot of positives in his team’s play.
“There were a couple players that really stepped up,” he said. “Amandeep Singh played extremely well on defense; Jimmy Hague played extremely well. It was a tough loss. If we can keep the intensity and the positivity going forward through our next four games we should be all right.”
Varga saw a complete team effort in the victory.
“We moved the ball around good,” he said. “We controlled the midfield. Defensively we didn’t give them too many opportunities. Offensively we kind of pushed it a little bit and put some pressure on their keeper.”
The rivalry will be renewed at Millville on Oct. 15, when both teams could be fighting for playoff berths.
“A month from now we could be two completely different teams,” Varga said. “We have games (today), both of us, so I think we just move on and worry about them when they come around the next time.”
Getting redemption will be important for Kuzma, who is in his first year as a coach after formerly playing for the Fighting Clan. He knows what a victory over Millville would mean to his program and people around town.
“Hopefully some of these guys get that,” he said. “They need to realize how important it is to the city of Vineland and to Vineland soccer and the tradition. We’ll be ready when it comes time to be in Millville. We’ll be ready to battle.”