In a season of firsts for Lower Merion boys varsity soccer coach Nico Severini, the Aces headman managed to add another to his coaching résumé: first Central League victory.
On a muggy Monday afternoon at Phil Marion Field, Lower Merion rode a first half goal from Sasha Safavi and second-half scores from Matias Fernandez-Duque, David Rosenfeld and Efecon Tatar to an impressive 4-0 win over Ridley in their Central League opener.
Severini had to wade through some anxious moments before securing his first career league win, however. The Aces dominated play from the opening whistle, controlling possession and creating a myriad of scoring opportunities. Fancy footwork, creative set pieces and the strong throwing ability of Michael Lemonick conspired to manufacture several golden chances in the first half, each of which fell by the wayside, thwarted by deflections, goalposts and diving efforts from the Green Raider keeper.
Finally, an exasperated Aces squad broke through 33 minutes into the first half. Senior Matias Fernandez-Duque received a pass in the midfield and split several Ridley defenders with a dazzling array of moves before threading a pass to Sasha Safavi, who easily found the back of the net with a left-footed strike to give the Aces a 1-0 advantage. The goal was the fourth of the young season for the dangerous striker from Toronto.
As was the case in the first game of the year, Lemonick's throw-ins proved to be the Aces' most valuable asset on offense. The senior midfielder and future Navy Midshipman found David Rosenfeld on a multitude of throws from around the corner flag, but each time Rosenfeld's efforts went begging.
Lemonick found him all alone in the box for free headers on four separate occasions in the first half of play, but the senior defender's attempts on goal went for naught each time. Two sailed just over goal, one clanged harmlessly off the crossbar, and another was stopped by a diving effort from the Ridley goalie.
The Aces kept the Green Raider keeper busy throughout, peppering the box with crosses and shots from all angles. Eventually, the Lower Merion attack broke a severely bent Green Raider defense and overcame a valiant performance from the Ridley goalie.
Ben Hriscu sent a screaming attempt off the post from 20 yards out in the second half, and another Rosenfeld header somehow found the arms of the Ridley keeper from just a few feet away. Then, Fernandez-Duque produced more magic.
The Wynnewood native headed a throw-in from (who else?) Lemonick into the back of the net to double the Aces' advantage with 25 minutes remaining in the match. The Ridley sideline and players clamored for a handball, but none was called as Lower Merion extended their lead to 2-0.
Rosenfeld made it 3-0 with his first goal of the season with 16 minutes to play. The Narbeth native slid a low effort around the Ridley keeper and into the corner to put the game well out of reach. Senior midfielder Efecon Tatar provided the final tally with a superb effort from 35 yards out, sending a screaming bender over the outstretched arms of the Ridley keeper and into the upper corner of the goal.
Aces keepers Emmett McConnell, Jon Gruelich, and Shane Votto combined to post the third shutout of the season for a defense that has yet to concede a goal. The ball found its way into the Aces' half only a handful of times, and the defense gave Severini little reason to fear an equalizer from the Green Raiders.
With the win, Lower Merion improved to 3-0 on the season, 1-0 in Central League play. The Aces next take on Central League foe Radnor on their home turf on Wednesday at 3:45 p.m.