Time has done little to help the Vineland High School boys’ soccer team’s progress this season.
And with Vineland playing its 13th game on Tuesday — the number of contests required to determine postseason positioning — the clock may have stopped ticking on the Fighting Clan’s postseason hopes.
Vineland struggled to generate any momentum Tuesday in a 2-0 loss to Cape-Atlantic League American Conference frontrunner Absegami at the Anthony DiTomo Athletic Complex.
The Fighting Clan (2-11) didn’t put a single shot on frame in the contest, while Vineland goalkeeper Brandon Alvarez was tested early and often by the visiting Braves (8-1-1). It was the third-straight shutout loss for the Clan.
Absegami opened the scoring in the 22nd minute when Andy Kupp chipped a Pete Varsalona feed over a leaping Alvarez, off the crossbar and into the goal for a 1-0 edge. The Braves struck again in the opening minute of the second half when Sean Milligan found space and beat a diving Alvarez far post with a left-footed shot from 25 yards.
“The first chance, it was just a nice shot,” said Alvarez, who made 12 saves in the game. “The second one, I was centimeters away from making the save. I just couldn’t quite get my fingertips on it.”
Typically, teams don’t want its goalkeeper to be the best player on a given day. Unfortunately for Vineland, Alvarez, a junior, needed to be and was.
The Fighting Clan produced one quality scoring chance in the first half, but Anthony Battistini misfired, sparing Absegami goalkeeper Matt McCormick from needing to make a save. Josh Davidson also had a breakthrough in the 73rd minute, taking a touch before finding himself 1-on-1 with McCormick only to a fire a shot wide.
Offense has been hard to come by all year for Vineland. The team has scored just 10 goals in 13 games. However, scoring has become much more difficult since senior captain and central midfielder Raf Klepacki was sidelined with a concussion on Sept. 22.
Tony Irion is one player who has pushed up from defense to help fill the void, but nothing seemed to work on Tuesday against the Braves.
“We’re just not getting open, not getting to space, not moving off the ball,” Irion said. “The chemistry of the team is just off, period.”
When offensive flow is off, it takes its toll on the defense.
Vineland received strong efforts in the back for most of the game from defenders like Don Money, Luis Andrion and Amandeep Singh. Eventually, though, Absegami’s constant pressure was too much to thwart.
“It’s hard because we are kind of defending the whole game,” said Andrion, Vineland’s sweeper. “We’re working so hard to get that ball out and it’s coming right back in. Eventually, we’re going to mess up.”
Absegami’s ability to rotate the ball gave the Fighting Clan fits. Not only did the defense eventually lose its marks, but Vineland’s midfielders were also caught out of position on both Braves’ goals.
“Sometimes, we’ll get caught ball-watching and allow the other team to get to open space,” Vineland first-year coach Dan Kuzma said. “Marking becomes so important and Absegami is a great team. You can’t allow them to have those chances.”
The Fighting Clan will look to get back on track Friday when they host Atlantic City in another CAL American game. The two teams combined for 10 goals earlier this season when the Vikings topped Vineland, 7-3, on Sept. 12.