PEARL RIVER—Every statistic that you could possibly find on the score sheet favored Pearl River after Tuesday’s clash with league rival Tappan Zee except for one – goals.
The Dutchmen were able to equal the Pirates in that category for the 1-1 tie, thanks in large part to a tremendous effort from senior goalkeeper Juan Umana.
“He was just making unbelievable saves,” Pearl River senior Brian Chiarello said. “Not many keepers at all can make those kinds of saves in this league, or even in this section. He’s been working very hard, and he is good, so I give the credit to him.”
The Pirates (7-1-1) outshot Tappan Zee, 23-4. They also took 15 corner kicks, while the Dutchmen (6-2-1) didn’t have one. But Umana finished with 15 saves as he continues to lead a surprising TZ team that failed to even qualify for the Class A playoffs last season.
“Coming into the season, we knew that we were going to have to rely on Juan to step up, and certainly he did that today,” Tappan Zee coach Jon Jacobs said. “He probably made too many game-saving, tremendous saves than I can remember. It was outstanding. It was a pleasure to watch.”
Umana nearly got off to a rocky start when Tony Ortega launched a rocket shot from about 25 yards out in the second minute, but it pinged off of the far post.
“As I’m backing up, I’m like, ‘Oh my God. That ball is probably going to go behind me.’ I just threw myself and did whatever I could have done, and it blasted into the post. Thank God,” Umana said. “I realized that they were coming with everything tonight and it was going to be a tough game.”
The Dutchmen managed just one shot in the first half, but Marco Batista made it count in the 21st minute.
“We have some very opportunistic forwards – very disciplined in the sense that we rely heavily on patience and counter attacking,” Jacobs said. “We waited for our moment, and the moment presented itself. Marco took full advantage.”
The Pirates were finally able to get onto the board 19 seconds into the second half, when Matt Neroda found a streaking Chiarello for the equalizer.
“I played awful in the first half. Coach told me that, and I knew it. I had to come out and show them something different,” Chiarello said. “It was what we said we wanted to do at halftime – just attack. We got the ball in the corner, (Neroda) made a nice play, and I ripped it.”
Pearl River continued to apply pressure throughout the second half and overtime, but Umana made a flurry of difficult saves, including a remarkable stop on a Chris Coughlan header that seemed destined for the back of the net in the 84th minute.
“This is my last year, and I’m trying to make the best out of it,” Umana said. “They trust me, and I’m giving my trust back to them.”
• I’ll put this as simply as I can: Umana turned in the best performance that I’ve seen from a keeper so far this season. He’s not a big guy, but he displayed great anticipation and the ability to react to shots quickly. The Pirates came out playing well and had plenty of quality chances, and it had to be discouraging to not get a goal in the first half when they had dominated the game. “He played outstanding,” PR coach Damon O’Keefe said. “The goalie played really well, and credit to him. Finally, a hot goalkeeper got us in a situation where we weren’t able to put the ball in the back of the net on a consistent basis; especially in the beginning. We had a lot of opportunities, and credit to our guys. We got forward – especially in that first 10, 15 minutes – we just couldn’t get that early goal that I think might have blown this game more open for us.”
• Despite dominating possession, O’Keefe said that his message at halftime was clear. “We challenged our forwards,” he said. “When our forwards are not active on the ball enough and they don’t want to fight for balls – especially when we have the possession – we just don’t become a really good, attacking soccer team. I tell the guys all of the time, ‘We can possess the ball 80-20, but the scoreboard tells the story.’ That was the message, and we wanted to really push our forwards to go get us goals.”
• That message really seemed to get through to Chiarello, who played much better and more aggressively in the second half. He hooked up for a couple of opportunities with Coughlan, who is easily the most well-rounded player for Pearl River. He’s been a lockdown defender in recent seasons, but is playing in the midfield this year and leads the team in goals. He’s a big target and got his head on a handful of dangerous balls that were flicked into the box. “It’s been wonderful for us,” O’Keefe said. “Brian is playing really well, and as you can see here in the second half, he was highly active. When he’s highly active, he’s very tough to deal with. We just have to keep on reminding him of that, and when he gets going, he does a very good job. And Chris is great. He does a great job for us winning 50-50 balls and pushing forward into the box. Unfortunately today, he had the corner today that he blasted and the kid made a great save… He’s a big, strong, tall, physical player, and he’s hard to defend.”
• Another guy who stood out to me from Pearl River was Neroda at center back. His presence allowed O’Keefe to feel comfortable pushing Coughlan up, and he always seemed to make the right reads in the back. Thanks to Neroda and the rest of the defense, keeper Pat Guerin only had to stop three shots in 100 minutes. “We love our four guys in the back, and we love our goalkeeper,” O’Keefe said. “They’ve been playing great for us. A little rusty on the outside here today because a couple of guys had to go on college visits, but overall we really trust the five guys that we have there. That’s why we’re able to push up and try to get leads. Listen, we’re here to win. We’re not here to sit back, and that’s our philosophy.”
• The Pirates are still in excellent shape to contend for a league title and will play defending champ Nyack on Thursday. They lost a lot of big names from last year’s team, but with seniors like Coughlan, Chiarello and Neroda leading the charge, Pearl River is arguably playing better this season. “Very happy,” Chiarello said. “The younger kids have stepped up big time. We have talent, and it’s working for us. We’re going to keep on pushing. We want to keep on winning going into the playoffs and go all of the way in sectionals.”
• As for the Dutchmen, their season has been even more remarkable. They have already doubled their win total from last season and it’s only Oct. 1. Think about that for a second. Jacobs has done a great job of changing the culture at TZ, and as Umana told me, practices have been more focused and organized. He’s definitely an early candidate for coach of the year in Rockland, along with O’Keefe and Spring Valley’s Ryan Marcus. “We’re a very, very young team,” Jacobs said. “We came off of a relatively unsuccessful season last year. At this point, I think these guys are really playing above and beyond. Certainly there are moments when it could look a little bit better and we could connect a few more passes, but I can’t say enough about how proud I am of the effectiveness of their play.”
MORE RESULTS FROM TUESDAY
When Spring Valley coach Ryan Marcus was in high school he played for North Rockland, so he is familiar with the team who appeared in the Class AA finals and their ability to dominate on the field.
So on Tuesday when the Tigers earned a 2-1 win against the Red Raiders, they moved one step closer to Marcus’ vision of emulating the success that North Rockland has as an elite program.
“We knew this was an important game, because we know that if we want to take the league we had to take care of them,” Marcus said.
Karlyl Simon scored the winning goal assisted by Kevin Quito in the 68th minute of the game to ensure that Spring Valley took care of North Rockland. Quito also scored a goal assisted by Rooben Michel.
“I think early on we struggled offensively,” Marcus said. “We had two golden opportunities and we took advantage of both of them and scored.”
Spring Valley is now 7-1, but even after adding this statement win to their record, the team is still looking to do more.
“A lot of the guys were happy to get the win, but they weren’t satisfied,” Marcus said. “They just keep pushing each other and they are never satisfied, so their attitude is pretty much where I want it to be.”
Patrick Dentico scored for North Rockland. Teammate Brendan Madden matched Tiger’s goalie Maycoll Marroquin with six saves.
“I think it was well played on both sides,” Marcus added. “North Rockland had chances on goal, but we were just fortunate to have the final goal.”
Best of the Rest: Javier Casado scored on a free kick from Tom Young in the first overtime period to give Edgemont a 1-0 win at league rival Pelham. … Austin Capasso and James Silva each had a goal for Eastchester in a 2-1 win over Scarsdale B. … Rafi Dodo had three goals and two assists for Solomon Schecter in a 9-1 win over Roosevelt. … Prince Kermue had two goals for Woodlands in a 3-1 win over Yonkers Montessori. … Filipe Berardino had three goals for Yonkers in a 4-1 win over Lincoln. … Ignacio Marini scored a goal assisted by Zach Cromwell for Scarsdale in a 1-0 win over John Jay EF. … Benjamin Ovetsky had two goals for Irvinvgton in a 3-3 tie against Hastings. … Clarkstown North won 3-2 at Suffern. … Nick Tunic had two goals and an assist and Emmett Gaffney had a goal and two assists in Mamaroneck’s 5-0 at White Plains. Tom Orgielewicz made eight saves as the Tigers improved to 8-0. They have outscored opponents 34-3.
Photos by Peter Carr/The Journal News