On a raw, chilly, and at times rainy afternoon Thursday at Lower Merion High School, there seemed to be something in the air aside from moisture that was conspiring against a sharp varsity boys’ soccer team, playing its first playoff game after being awarded a bye in the first round for a stellar regular season.
The weather, some unlucky bounces and a tough draw for an opponent meant a devastating 2-1 overtime loss for the Aces in the District One playoffs, after winning the district in 2010.
The loss ends the team's season without a trip to the state playoffs. The Aces would have to have beaten Council Rock South, as well as their next opponent, to qualify.
The Aces, ranked in the top 50 in the nation among high school soccer teams, out-shot opponent Council Rock South by a margin of 7-1 after the first half, but lead only 1-0.
That goal came on a corner kick mid-way through the first half by junior Matt Lindheim, redirected via an expert header by senior Tyler Niles into the back of the net.
After early action that was largely scattered at mid-field as both teams felt each other out, the Lower Merion squad began to press more and more into the Council Rock end—but ball-handling was tough-going on Thursday. The wet weather was bad enough, but on the artificial turf of Arnold Field, the ball was slick and skidding around like the inside a Foosball box. It seemed like every minute or so there was another throw-in (or odd corner kick). There were plenty of penalties and free kicks, too, to the dismay of both coaches, who seemed puzzled by the head ref’s calls—and non-calls.
At one point during the game, the referee made an unusual move: after verbally warning a Council Rock South player about his play, he did not give an official warning via a yellow card. Instead, he forced CR South coach Alan Nicholl to sit him down and substitute him.
Despite the bad weather and tough luck, Lower Merion had its chances to pad its first-half lead. Junior Kenny Lassiter dazzled on the left sideline and eventually made a nice cross that was snagged by CR South goalkeeper Dan Lemashov, who had a solid game in net after giving up the early first goal of the game.
The goalie was saved by one of his fullbacks moments later, however, when Lassiter put a ball behind him that was bouncing into the goal, only to be booted aside at the last minute by the defender.
Lower Merion would not come that close again, despite a significant man-to-man size advantage.
“I don’t think anything went wrong besides the fact that they had one or two scrap goals, and we played a good team,” said Lower Merion head coach Nico Severini. “I don’t think it takes anything away from our guys—they had a tremendous season. Unfortunately, we had a tough game that could have gone either way, and we probably were in the bracket that had the hardest route to the final four [and the state championship tournament]. That happens.”
In the second half, Council Rock’s first goal came at the 13 minute mark—also on a corner kick, from junior Chris Spadaro—and also on a header, by senior Michael Discavage.
The last goal, in overtime (OT rules in the playoffs are “golden goal,” or sudden-death, over two 20-minute periods), came directly from an aggressive Council Rock offense that smelled blood near the Aces’ goalmouth. And then it happened: the end coming much sooner than expected, off a throw-in—the fourth in a row within just a few minutes for Council Rock South—and a Lower Merion defender being “jumped on top of,” according to Severini.
The non-call and a resultant rebound was then flicked up and over goalkeeper Connor Yu, by Council Rock senior Chase Coleman, less than half-way through the first overtime period.
“They pounced on it, and we knew that set-pieces were going to be important,” Severini said, shortly after a 10-minute on-field meeting after the game, with just his players and coaches.
“Today we didn’t get the bounce, or the second bounce—whatever you want to call it. That’s the way soccer is. It’s such a low-scoring game that even if you outplay a team ... I mean the other team had like two shots on goal.
“We had a strong game. It just didn’t go our way.”