by Tom Utescher
There’s not a soccer team out there that doesn’t wish it could cash in on more of its scoring opportunities, and the 2013 boys’ squad at Germantown Friends is no exception.
In last Tuesday’s home match against league rival Shipley, GFS gave up a goal to the visitors almost immediately. After that, the Tigers kept their cage sealed for the next 70 minutes, but couldn’t convert on a number of opportunities to tie the game.
With under eight minutes remaining in the affair Shipley added an insurance goal to come away with a 2-0 victory that netted the Main Line franchise a record of 4-1 within the Friends Schools League, and 4-1 overall. The Gators’ lone league loss came against George School, 2-0, with George scoring both of its goals on penalty kicks.
Despite playing close games against some good teams, the Tigers found themselves with a mark of 1-3 in the league and 2-8 overall following the Shipley setback. In league play, GFS has recorded a 4-0 victory over Friends Select, and its non-league win came against Barrack Hebrew Academy, 5-1. The Tigers acquitted themselves well in losses to two Inter-Ac League clubs in the area, bowing to nearby Penn Charter, 2-1, and falling to Springside Chestnut Hill, 2-0.
Last Tuesday’s game was barely a minute old when Shipley got on the board. Conor Higgins passed the ball inside to fellow junior Konrad Bulanowski, who chipped it over GFS senior goalie Luke Haas. Higgins, a Lafayette Hill native, is the brother of former Springside Chestnut Hill soccer player Tom Higgins, who graduated last spring.
Shipley retained the initiative on offense for about the next 15 minutes, then GFS developed a good scoring chance with a little under 24 minutes left in the half. A long serve from the right wing got the ball inside to senior Owen Scott, whose header was saved just beneath the crossbar by Gators goalie Jake Tractenburg.
After Shipley struck the frame of the GFS goal with a shot, GFS came down the field with 13 minutes left in the half, and from the left side of the box Scott got off a shot that went just wide of the far post.
As the half wound down, the Tigers’ Haas saved a Shipley header, and on a corner by the Gators the ball was headed away from the goal and out of danger by Germantown junior Satya Butler.
Haas had not played goalie for the Tigers before this year, and GFS had graduated its keeper from the 2012 season.
“Luke just decided to come out, and that’s a good thing because we really didn’t have any options,” revealed second-year head coach Sam McIlvain. “Even though there’s quite a learning curve for a goalie when he doesn’t have a lot of experience, Luke’s done a solid job for us.”
Speaking of the team’s other graduation losses from last season, the coach explained, “We lost key guys right up and down the middle; our striker, a strong center mid, and a strong center back.”
He added that, “Owen Scott has stepped into that role as striker and he’s playing well.”
Scott, Butler, and Butler’s twin brother Anand are the GFS team tri-captains this season.
“Anand is a skilled player and a really hard worker,” McIlvaine said. “He’s a good distributor, and also a strong defender.”
Junior Isaac Bushnell is a key defender at center back, but aside from a small group of established starters, the Tigers’ mentor noted, “We have a lot of young guys who are competing for playing time, so we’ve been flipping things around a bit with our line-up. We’re trying to focus on the process right now more than the results.”
Just before the end of the first half last Tuesday, Scott made one more attempt to tie the game, but his angled shot from the left edge of the box burrowed into the outside of the left panel of the net.
Worried about the scoring opportunities Germantown had generated, Shipley made an adjustment at halftime.
“In the midfield, they dropped a player in toward the center of the field who had been playing more out on the wing, and that helped them counter what we were doing in the middle third,” McIlvain said.
This afforded the Gators more time of possession in the second period. After Shipley’s Tractenburg saved a ball that Scott flicked toward the goal from the right side of the box, the visitors began to control the play for long stretches. They earned a number of corner kicks and had a number of near misses, but going into the last 10 minutes of the game, GFS was still just one goal behind.
The Gators finally got their insurance goal with seven-and-a-half minutes to go. From out near the right sideline, senior Nico Rubino centered the ball, and from a few yards past the far post sophomore Josh Liss sent a volley into the Tigers’ cage.
Fifth in the Friends league last year with a 4-4 record, Germantown was still not mathematically eliminated from the 2013 playoff field by the Shipley loss. Now, though, the Tigers were in a position where they had to start scoring, and winning, in every FSL contest left on the schedule.