With every game in the nine-team Greater Middlesex Conference Blue Division being so competitive this season, every team has a fair chance on any given day no matter who the opponent may be.
The South River boys soccer team controlled its own destiny in its pursuit of a third straight Blue Division title with three games left to play entering Wednesday night’s game against Metuchen, and Rams senior forward Rolando Martinez made a game-changing play with 10 seconds left in the first half.
Martinez took the rebound off a missed shot and tapped in the ball for a goal to send South River to a 1-0 halftime lead and the Rams fought off a late Bulldog charge to hold on for the shutout victory.
“It hit off my (teammate) Fabio Lucas and I was going to give it a touch, but I just shot it right there and the keeper touched it” Martinez said. “I didn’t think it was going in, but out of nowhere it just went in.”
South River (11-4-1, 9-4-1) managed 10 first-half shot attempts. The Rams tried to force the issue before Martinez helped them get a boost late in the 40th minute.
“It was a game changer, we tell the kids all the time to just shoot the ball – make the goalie be athletic, make show him us that he can make plays and Martinez drove a ball on net and the keeper mishandled it and it went into the goal and got behind him,” South River coach Eric Clays said. “We preach ‘test that keeper’ because a lot of times he can have an off night. Make him be athletic on that line. Test him, test him all the time.”
The Rams defense, led by a strong effort from junior Miguel Joao, stepped up its play in the second half, limiting Metuchen (6-7-2, 5-6-2) to very few opportunities before sweating out the final minutes as the Bulldogs got several opportunities that they could not convert.
“To hold Metuchen to one goal (in two games) any year is not easy so I’m really proud of the effort,” said Clays, as South River and Metuchen tied 1-1 in their previous meeting this season. “We’re getting better defensively and with us if we can get this type of defensive effort every game I think we’re going to be tough.”
Stephan Lukianov made 10 saves in goal for the shutout for South River while Metuchen keepers Joe Misdea and Ben O’Connell combined to stop 11 shots for Metuchen.
South River still has two remaining divisional games against Highland Park and Spotswood, which won’t be an easy task with the parity in the Blue Division as every team has won at least five games and lost at least four thus far in divisional play.
“There’s a lot of talent in Middlesex County with these middle-size to small-size schools,” Clays said. “The level of play is extremely high, I think, and day in and day out, it’s a battle in the Blue Division – there’s no weak spot. Top to bottom everybody is solid. Even the teams down at the bottom give some of the teams at the top great matches.”