With their backs against the wall, the East Brunswick High School girls soccer team turned to their most inspirational player for a much needed boost. Trailing rival Old Bridge 1-0 at halftime, Sydney Rosa took over, scoring a pair of second-half goals to lift the top-seeded Bears to the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament title in a 2-1 victory Saturday afternoon at Nicholas A. Priscoe Stadium.
Rosa — who has battled Wegener’s granulomatosis, a disorder that causes inflammation of blood vessels, since her freshman season — got the Bears back even in the 45th minute when she took advantage of a bouncing ball in the Old Bridge box and beat goalkeeper Alley Mauer.
But Rosa was not done. In the 62nd minute, after Gabby Sachs worked the ball down the middle of the pitch, stopped on a dime and laid out a perfect pass to a streaking Rosa, the junior dribbled for 5 yards and launched a rocket over Mauer’s hands to put the Bears up for good.
“This feels great,” Rosa said. “We got down at halftime but we were ready and we kept our spunk up and everyone played as hard as we could. The first goal got our spirits back up; some people have doubted us this year and once we got that goal, we said to play it like it was back to 0-0 and we just wanted to get that second one.”
Old Bridge had taken the lead in the 8th minute when Ashley Cafarella pounced on a loose ball and tapped it past East Brunswick goalkeeper Alex Kalafor. The second-seeded Knights held the majority of the possession in the first half, but were only able to come away with the one goal.
“We did a lot of backing off in the first half. We kept backing into a lot of Old Bridge scoring chances. In that midfield area, they were able to keep possession for a long time and we just tried to force them out,” East Brunswick head coach Kevin Brady said. “They had one goal in the first half and they could have had three. There were too many balls bouncing around in our box.”
After intermission, where the Bears regrouped and focused their energy on finding an equalizer, East Brunswick dominated the possession and got the better of the scoring chances. Ellie DiLiberto was aggressive in pursuit throughout the contest and a slew of Bears put pressure on Mauer and the Old Bridge defense throughout the second 40 minutes.
Old Bridge was unable to defeat East Brunswick for a second time this season, after winning 2-1 on Oct. 17, for the program’s first victory against the Bears since 2006. Mauer did what she could to will her team to victory, making five saves and stepping up in a big spot late in the second half when the Bears threatened to extend their lead.
With the victory, the Bears have now won 28 of the 35 GMCT titles, and successfully defended their 2012 crown. But, Rosa knew that it wouldn’t be easy, especially since the two teams had split a pair of regular-season meetings, with each team winning on each other’s home field.
“When you win something, it’s hard to keep it,” Rosa said. “Our main goal coming in this year was to defend that title and now it’s back where it belongs, in East Brunswick.”