After playing Howell to a scoreless draw earlier in the season, the Brighton girls soccer team knew exactly what to expect in the rematch.
The Bulldogs were certain that Howell would again stack its back line and employ a defensive-minded strategy designed to negate the Bulldogs’ fierce attack.
The Highlanders did just that, coming out in the same formation they used to earn a draw against Brighton a few weeks ago — only the second time in the prior 13 meetings Howell earned a result against its rivals — which involved packing the back and letting one or two loose on offense to hopefully catch Brighton overcommitting.
Having seen it and struggled with it before, one would think Brighton was ready for it the second time around. To an extent, the Bulldogs were. They dominated possession and generated multiple quality opportunities. But Howell still mostly held them at bay.
There was one difference, however; one difference that made what could have been another scoreless game into a 2-0 victory for Brighton at Sloan Field on Tuesday night: Set pieces.
“They defended with nine behind the ball at all times and that made it hard for us to break them down,” Brighton coach Chris Stevanovic said. “I told our girls, ‘If we’re going to score our goals, it’s going to be on corner kicks and set pieces.’ And both our goals were on corner kicks.”
The setups from the corner are what proved to be the deciding factor for another Brighton win, which improved the Bulldogs’ record to 5-1-3 overall and 5-0-1 in the conference with a showdown against second-place Hartland on Thursday. Howell, meanwhile, dropped to 1-3-1 in the KLAA West and 3-3-1 overall.
“Brighton’s an unbelievable team, very well-coached. But it was very competitive,” Howell coach Arnold Kromberg said. “Both teams played very, very well. But we gave up two goals on set pieces and that was it.”
For a while things appeared headed for another 90 minutes without a goal for either side.
Brighton and Howell both had chances — although the former held a major edge, which wasn’t unexpected given Howell’s approach to the game — but neither could capitalize for the first 26-plus minutes of the first half.
It wasn’t until just over 13 minutes remained in the opening period that Brighton was awarded an opportunity from the corner and Brighton’s Mackenzie Chwalibog delivered a pass to Mackenzie Roggenkamp to net the go-ahead score.
Finally, there was a goal on the board. And for Brighton, that seemed to change things.
“Getting the first goal changed the tempo a bit,” Stevanovic said. “We (suddenly) had the ball more and we created more opportunities.”
“I think everyone just realized it’s time,” Brighton senior captain Bailey Tuczak added. “It was 0-0 last game, now we got one in and now it’s time to go more. Again and again.”
The Bulldogs seemed to attack a bit harder for the remainder of the half. They wouldn’t score, but it was enough for Stevanovic. Still, at the break the Brighton coach stressed the importance of coming out with one more goal to put Howell on its heels.
The Bulldogs did, but not until after
a spectacular 1-on-1 stop from Brighton goalie Madison Gould five minutes into the period.
“We fell asleep for a minute and their girl got behind,” Stevanovic said. “I gave my goalkeeper props for that, because if it’s 1-1 they have momentum and the game’s a whole different game.”
“Those things are huge. You talk any opportunity you have to put a shot on a good team, you’ve gotta put it in the back of the net and then you never know how things go after that,” Kromberg said. “But a compliment to them for not letting it in.”
Not three minutes after Gould’s impressive stop, the Bulldogs netted one more. Another corner from Chwalibog resulted in an open Tuczak putting in the insurance goal with 32:15 left to ensure it would take a drastic switch in plans for the Highlanders to cut the deficit.
The Highlanders would make that switch — they would have to — but that wouldn’t matter, as Brighton held on for the shutout, albeit one that Stevanovic wasn’t entirely thrilled with after the game.
“Once we scored the second goal, I was really disappointed with our effort,” said Stevanovic, who used the word “lackadaisical” several times when addressing his team after the win. “Howell really took it to us. … But overall we got the win and that’s the most important thing.”
Contact Anthony Odoardi at email@example.com or at (517) 204-9456.