Any time there is a long throw-in or corner kick on the soccer pitch, chaos can ensue.
Monday night’s playoff-like varsity boys soccer contest between Salem and Plymouth boiled down to such a sequence — the Wildcats found the back of the Rocks cage with just 1:30 remaining in the second half for a 1-0 victory.
Anthony Iacopelli hurled the ball from the right sideline in the Salem end of the Plymouth-Canton Educational Park varsity soccer stadium and it flew into the 18-yard box in front of Salem netminder Karson Gregory.
Beating his man to the ball was Plymouth standout forward Jayden Huxtable, who flicked it over to the left post where teammate Dylan Dwyer beautifully headed it into the goal.
“I just flicked it on, it was a great job by him (Dwyer), it was great positioning,” Huxtable said. “Everything was done well by this team. We had a great game. Just back of the head (by Dwyer) into the top corner.”
According to Salem head coach Scott Duhl, the deciding play was “classic high school stuff, long throws, you throw it in the box, it’s no different than a corner kick or a free kick. anybody can score on that stuff. It’s good experience for our group, we need to be better in those moments.”
Salem, the first-place team in the KLAA Central Division, fell to 7-3-1 overall with the loss.
“I don’t know if it was about being open,” Duhl explained. “They went to the ball and we kind of froze and thought we were going to win the ball.
“It deflected and then they scored on the rebound. guys just didn’t collapse, they didn’t go to the ball, simple as that. We stood around while they went and won the game.”
Plymouth head coach Jeff Neschich said it was “a game that could have gone either way, hard-fought game by both teams.”
The Wildcats improved to 6-1-0 overall, according to the KLAA website.
Neschich noted a spectacular stop by his goalie, Damon Favero, that kept the KLAA Kensington Conference crossover game scoreless long enough for his team to earn the victory.
With about seven minutes to play, dangerous Salem forward Nick Massey cut in tight from the left side of the box and ripped a shot that Favero was able to jump up enough to get a hand on.
The ball glanced off the crossbar and the Rocks tried to punch in the rebound only to be denied by Favero and his defense.
“Huge save, they had about three opportunities in a row to score there,” Neschich said.
Also coming up big in goal was Gregory, particularly on Huxtable’s free kick from about 30 yards out with 4:40 to play.
Huxtable’s laser beam of a shot was ticketed for the top-left corner, but Gregory dove to his right and batted the ball aside.
A factor for the Wildcats emerging victorious was shadowing Salem’s speedy offensive threats such as Massey and Max Kummer.
“Nick’s a really smart player, I play with him during club,” Plymouth center-back Van Nguyen said. “Just keeping him in front, I just don’t let him get past you because he’s got speed. Just got to contain him.
“… We’re working together, staying connected, our mids did good work checking back, keeping the ball in front.”
Neschich pointed to the job Nguyen and Andrew Liakos did in the back as instrumental in holding Salem off the scoreboard.
“I think our two center-backs did a great job, Andrew Liakos and Van Nguyen,” Neschich said. “Our outside-backs put initial pressure on them but I think those guys cleaned up for the outside-backs.”
Kummer said it was frustrating to lose on a late goal.
“I thought we played hard we just couldn’t connect as a team very well,” Kummer said. “… We fought hard through the game, we just couldn’t close it out.”
Thrilled with how his team did just that was Huxtable, who brings a lethal combo of speed and power to the field.
“We’ve done it more than once,” said Huxtable, about how the Wildcats came through in the clutch. “Against Brighton we scored with five minutes left in the game, we were down a man the whole game.
“We just like to persevere through it, that’s what I love the team for doing.”