Soccer is a cruel game, especially on the high school level. A look at the Lower Merion varsity boys’ three losses this past season proves the point.
The first loss was against elite Conestoga. The Aces did almost everything right, but lost on an own-goal. The second was against township rival Harriton High. This time, the Aces totally outplayed their opponent, but a questionable call at the end of the game resulted in the winner.
Then there was the third loss: a rain-soaked, cold, windy and gut-wrenching playoff season-ender against Council Rock South. This time it was another dominant game—but a questionable non-call, in overtime, no less—put an end to Lower Merion’s wonderful season.
Obviously, with the low-scoring nature of the sport, mental mistakes, calls and non-calls can kill a team—whether it is nationally ranked, as Lower Merion was for most of the season—or not. (A week before their playoff loss, the Aces were ranked fifth in a Southeastern Pennsylvania Soccer Coaches Association Poll; throughout the season, they were consistently mentioned as among the top 50 teams in the country.)
But enough sour grapes—this was truly an astounding and entertaining Aces squad. Coach Nico Severini, assisted by his dad Jorge (and Zach Allen) could not have coached these kids any better. Scoring was much more consistent this year, balanced by explosive runs from players like Ben Hriscu and Kenny Lassiter, and set plays from corner-kick artist Matt Lindheim and throw-in wizard Shane Votto.
They were energetic and tenacious in the mid-field. The Aces’ defense always played smart and kept its shape. And their goalkeeping, with Conner Yu between the pipes, was rock solid.
First, a little bad news: Votto and Tyler Niles are among the talented seniors that will not be around next year. Not just talented, these kids towered over most of their opponents, making the Aces the biggest team in the Central League. Unless we see a few growth spurts in the off season, Lower Merion may lose that particular advantage.
There is plenty of good news, however. Lindheim, the team leader in total points (goals and assists) will return. The electric Lassiter, second on the team in goals, also returns. Talented young striker Marcelo Pernot returns after missing much of last season with an injury.
Trevor Yu showed flashes of talent in a substitute capacity and will probably crack the starting lineup. Defensive wunderkind Noah Blodgett will still provide solid stay-at-home defense. Mark Abi-Khutar was a great story in 2011—a converted mid-fielder who had to start at defense for virtually the whole season due to the Will Podrasky injury, and in the process established himself as a gamer.
Finally, Trevor’s twin brother Connor will thankfully be patrolling the Aces’ net for another year.
Come next September, I look for our local boys to once again be among the co-favorites to win the always-tough Central League. And you have to believe that the expert coaching staff will produce lots of new talent to compliment the returning players.
Led by Lindheim and Lassiter, the 2012 version of the Lower Merion Aces will once again provide our area with world-class soccer action.
See you at Arnold Field!