It’s safe to say things have not gone as planned this year for the Vineland High School boys’ soccer team.
After Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to Cape-Atlantic League American Conference power Absegami, the Fighting Clan’s playoff hopes were all but officially wiped away.
So what’s left for Vineland?
The team has six games tentatively left on the schedule, including three against local rivals Millville (Monday), Buena (Wednesday) and Sacred Heart (Oct. 24). No team wants to be left playing for morale already. Unfortunately for Vineland, it’s all they have at this point.
“We need to try and ruin other teams’ seasons,” Fighting Clan midfielder Tony Irion said following the loss to Absegami. “It’s all we can do. Try to figure things out these last couple of weeks and knock off as many teams as we can.”
If Vineland can’t find a way to score goals, accomplishing that vision won’t be easy.
The Clan have been without arguably their best offensive weapon in senior midfielder Raf Klepacki since Sept. 22 against Cedar Creek. Klepacki has missed seven games with a concussion and there is no certainty he can return before season’s end.
It has all added up to a frustrating year for the players and first-year coach Dan Kuzma.
“I gave some guys time (Tuesday) from JV (in the varsity game) and maybe I’ll do more of that,” said Kuzma. “The thing is, we want to win. And besides the game against Atlantic City (a 7-3 loss on Sept. 12) and besides the game against Ocean City (a 3-0 loss on Sept. 24), they’ve all been one- or two-goal games.
“We’re not completely out of these games. Gami’s blown teams out 5-2, things like that. Hammonton, we lose 1-0 (on Oct. 3), it’s not a terrible game. All of the elements are there, there’s just certain things that aren’t coming together.”
One of the team’s stronger elements for the most part has been its defense.
However, Vineland’s lack of offense — the team has been shut out six times this season, including in its last three games — has caught up with the Clan’s defenders.
Still, the group has allowed just eight goals in its last five games.
“We start strong for the first five minutes of games, but you really need to be good for the first 15 minutes to truly get settled in,” Clan senior sweeper Luis Andrion said. “When we go flat, we get behind. And we don’t have the offense to come back right now.”
Vineland is hoping raw emotion can carry it to wins over the aforementioned rivals on the upcoming slate.
Millville already beat the Fighting Clan, 2-0, on Sept. 19. Buena was 10-3 entering play Wednesday, while Sacred Heart is hovering above the .500 mark.
“With Millville and Buena, it’s a matter of pride. Local pride,” Kuzma said. “Same thing with Sacred Heart. A lot of these kids play club soccer together and it’s a chance for them to claim some bragging rights.”
Delsea on the climb
Now that’s more like it.
Delsea is getting hot at the right time with the postseason just around the corner.
The Crusaders have won four of their last five games, with a draw also in the mix against a strong West Deptford team. Delsea has outscored its opposition 14-4 over that span in improving its record to 7-4-2 entering play on Wednesday.
Nine different Delsea players have accounted for those 14 goals, lending to coach Tom Freeman’s preseason prediction that offense would have to come from all over for the Crusaders to be successful.
Senior Jon Cosenza, who leads Delsea with six goals, scored three times over that stretch, while junior Matt Pastore is second with five goals, including two during Delsea’s recent hot streak.
The Crusaders look to have a home Group III South playoff game locked up when the tournament opens later this month.
■Sacred Heart sophomore forward Steven Tobolski has scored eight goals over his last four games entering play Wednesday to move him back atop the area goal-scoring leaderboard. Tobolski scored four times in a win over Cape May Tech on Oct. 3 before netting three tallies in a 7-0 win over Holy Spirit on Monday.
■St. Augustine freshman and Vineland resident Christian Bik continues to lead the Hermits in scoring with four goals. Among his notable markers are the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Millville on Sept. 14 and a two-goal performance in a 2-2 draw with Absegami on Sept. 24.
■With a hat trick against Salem on Oct. 5, Schalick sophomore Nick Rodriguez moved into the team lead for goals with seven entering play on Wednesday.
Area Elite Team Rankings *
1. Buena (10-3) — Loss to Mainland on Oct. 5 a bump in the road for the Chiefs.
2. Delsea (7-4-2) — The Crusaders are 4-0-1 in their last five games with an impressive draw against West Deptford on Friday.
3. St. Augustine (5-5-1) — The Hermits were swept by Hammonton this season, losing both games 1-0.
4. Millville (6-4-2) — The Bolts are 0-3-1 in their last four games.
5. Cumberland (6-4) — The Colts lost 1-0 to Schalick last week after beating them 4-0 at the start of the season.
6. Sacred Heart (6-4) — The Lions are playing much better, but need to prove themselves against a quality opponent.
* Records through Tuesday