WILMINGTON Salesianum and Charter of Wilmington were deadlocked in an early season boys soccer showdown Thursday when the Sals put Tyler Morris and Jack Leonard into the game for the final 10 minutes.
The senior crossed to the freshman in the 78th minute, and Leonard popped it in to give Sallies a hard-fought, 2-1 victory on the road.
“It was a good ball in by Tyler,” Leonard said. “I didn’t really need to jump up for it, but I got to the ball. It was almost a save by the keeper, but it felt good for my first goal as a Sallies player.”
There may be many more in Leonard’s future, but this was a good start as it made sure No. 1 Salesianum (3-1-1) will stay atop The News Journal’s Division I rankings. The No. 2 Force (5-1) went toe to toe most of the way before falling prey to the Sals’ superior depth.
“I don’t think we generated as many scoring opportunities in the second half,” Charter coach Jon Gillespie said. “They played very well in the second half, and we defended a lot more. I think we started to tire at the end of the half, and they put in a good opportunity at the end.”
Both teams had chances early, as the Force’s Roy Lee missed high from close range under pressure in the 13th minute, and the Sals’ Gavin Ford got the Charter goalkeeper on the ground in the 16th minute but couldn’t capitalize from a sharp angle.
Sallies got on the board in the 24th minute. Matt Vasco took a pass from the corner and fired a shot that deflected over Force keeper Will Connolly. Freshman Thomas McGrail tapped it in for a 1-0 lead.
But Charter struck back just 27 seconds later. Senior Brian Shannon found an opening out of a scramble and drove it home from 20 yards out to tie it at 1.
“They had chances, we had chances, it was just chaos,” Sallies coach Scott Mosier said of the first half. “So our goal, even if we didn’t score, was just to keep the ball and kind of get the game under control.”
The Sals did just that, maintaining possession for most of the second half. Still, each team had a chance to go ahead.
Charter senior Tommaso Morrione bounced a knuckler that Sallies keeper Gavin Campbell bobbled before controlling in the 52nd minute. Then Connolly charged out of his net to thwart a Sals breakaway in the 58th minute.
Both sides were starting to contemplate overtime when Morris found Leonard in front of the net, and the freshman converted with authority.
“He came off the bench, energetic, really excited to be out there,” Mosier said of Leonard. “We were hoping he would give us a little bit of spark.”
Charter’s first loss was stinging, but the Force learned some lessons that may pay off later. They would love to see the Sals again in November, with a state title on the line.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing, but it’s so early,” Gillespie said. “Our goal is to see them in the state tournament at some point. Both teams will be totally different at that point, at a totally different level.”
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com . Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ