Nov. 21, 2010
NMH and Kent entered today’s championship match with a combined 26 game unbeaten streak with both teams going 10-0-3. NMH was coming off a challenging match with a very talented Andover team while Kent knocked off two-time defending champ and number one seed Hotchkiss (well done!). Clearly, these were the two hottest teams in New England Class A Soccer and neither team disappointed anyone who was able to make the trip to Middlesex’s spectacular campus. Last year, Kent emphatically ended our season in the New England semifinals with a dominating and celebratory 2-0 victory. This year, the Hoggers looked forward to the opportunity to erase the memory and bring home a championship.
On a bright and pleasantly crisp morning, Kent came out with their two most dynamic players at center midfield and looked to attack through the middle or down the left side to their dangerous midfielder, Adam Beek. While Diego Rossi and Seitu Morel contained Beek on the edge, Johnny Mendoza and Fritz Windover had to play outstanding defense in the middle of the pitch to contain Oscar Umar and Bernard Aboapli, two of the best players in New England. NMH’s ability to hold shape and stand up Kent’s dangerous players off the dribble at midfield allowed NMH to stay in a more offensive 4-4-2 and left Kent settling for long range shots.
Offensively, NMH looked to attack the edges of Kent’s back four and finish our opportunities when springing from the counter-attack. NMH drew first blood when Seitu Morel stepped and won a tackle and fed the ball to Ian Murdoch, who quickly fed a streaking Diego Medina just outside the 18. Medina beat the central defender and calmly placed a shot past the Kent keeper for the 1-0 lead. Both Murdoch’s and Seitu’s contributions highlighted the depth of NMH’s bench and the impact it would have on the outcome on the game.
NMH appeared to have the momentum early but Kent got a break when Oscar Umar struck a tricky, bending ball with a bright morning sun in backdrop that eluded NMH’s talented goalie Garrett Cyprus. Like true teammates, the Hoggers instinctively rallied around their keeper and got the goal back with a great combination from Diego Medina and Diego Rossi. Medina played a quick short corner to Rossi who alertly left a heel pass to the overlapping Medina. Medina took off from the left side line and bent around the Kent box, beating several players as he cut against the grain before striking a pass back to the near post. After his heel pass, Rossi came off the flank and broke toward the near post and deftly received Medina’s strike, took one touch, and pumped a shot past the Kent keeper for the 2-1 Hogger lead. It was a brilliant goal on many levels given Rossi initiated the sequence on the sideline and had the presence of mind to finish his run to the post.
The first half ended with a 2-1 NMH lead. For much of the half NMH did a good job standing up the initial Kent attack and managed to consistently get eight players behind the ball, not easy task given our deep penetrating runs on offense and Kent’s explosive counter-attacks. For the most part, Kent was forced to settle for perimeter shots while NMH responded with speed and ball movement on dangerous counters.
Coach Booth got Kent ready to play the second half and they were able to get the equalizer five minutes in. Oscar weaved his way through midfield on a counter attack and delivered a great, piercing through ball to a streaking Kenny Doublette who cut the ball against the grain and past the diving Cyprus. For the next twenty-five minutes the game went back and forth. NMH’s back four of Sam Williams, Charlie Burdge, Cade Halkyard, and Dan Discenza did an outstanding job winning balls in the air and putting early pressure on the Kent attack while the midfielders battled tenaciously for every 50/50 ball and forced Kent to serve less dangerous balls at our back four. The back four deserves special recognition because they worked incredibly hard all season to prepare for just this championship opportunity. Their communication, camaraderie, and fearless play under the leadership of their goalie, Garrett Cyprus, was the cornerstone of our season. In this game, they maintained not only their composure under enormous Kent pressure, but kept their shape beautifully as well.
The defensive effort extended to midfield all game. The play that best captured what this effort meant to the outcome of the game was a series of three tackles by Johnny Mendoza. Mendoza won three successive 50/50 balls with tenacious block tackles that eventually led to a Kent foul and created a dangerous free kick for the Hoggers. The Kent keeper made a great save on the Santos shot to keep the game tied at two. Mendoza’s effort inspired the crowd cheer even harder and his teammates to play with even more passion.
As the game headed into the last fifteen minutes, NMH’s subbing and the constant positive cheering from the large NMH contingent began to give NMH a decided edge in play. Gus Santos turned the corner and nearly scored on several occasions, Halkyard and Williams nearly headed home corner kicks, Liam Phillips nearly scored in traffic, and Henry Ault’s point blank volley from the six almost won the game. Our large crowd of students, teachers, parents, and proud alums kept willing the team forward and we nearly won on several occasions in the closing minutes of regulation.
Despite NMH’s dominance down the closing minutes of regulation, Kent rallied in the first overtime. Give their boys a ton of credit for they came out ready to play. To be fair, this team defeated Exeter in overtime on Wednesday and played a very emotional and competitive game against their arch-rival, Hotchkiss. They accomplished these impressive victories while taking their exams, in fact, they are taking their last exam today. Kent pushed forward for the victory but NMH did not bend.
The first overtime ended and the team huddled in the center of field to share one last time their commitment to each other. The second overtime was NMH’s time to cash in on some fresher legs and better ball movement. With four minutes to go, Fritz Windover, a sophomore who logged 90 minutes against Andover in the middle of a very physical pitch and had not left the field for one minute of the championship while taking on two of the top players in New England, hit a perfectly weighted through ball to a streaking Gus Santos. Santos headed the ball forward, knocked the ball down from his chest and just before he was taken down from behind by a Kent defender, managed to push the ball across the six to a streaking Medina.
The referee sprinted to keep up with play, brilliantly held his whistle and allowed the play to finish. And finish is just what Diego did. Diego raced through the box and drove the loose ball past a stunned Kent keeper - the game and the moment turned surreal. Kent dropped in anguish and the Hoggers went wild! The goal was a beautiful way to end our journey together and it was only fitting that a workingman’s middie, Windover, fed a sprinting Santos who created an opportunity for Medina to deliver a championship with his 27th and final tally of this magical season. The NMH fans rushed onto the field and joined the celebration, for they clearly were a tremendous asset to our victory and deserved to be there.
The team would like to thank our fans for their outstanding support all season. We would also like to extend our appreciation to the Middlesex School for hosting an outstanding Championship, and most importantly, we want to thank the Kent team and Coach Booth for their outstanding performance. It takes two quality teams to make something special happen in a New England Class A Championship.
Kent: Yellow (Oscar Umor, professional foul)
NMH: Yellow (Liam Phillips, professional foul)