SOMERS —Mahopac midfielder Conor Butler’s eyes got wide and he could feel the nerves kicking in as he approached the Somers goal with no one except for goalkeeper Ryan Nealon standing between him and the game-winner, but he was able to harness the anxiety and calmly chip it in.
“That was probably the first time that I’ve really, really composed myself,” the senior captain said. “I actually took my time and placed the ball. Usually, I mess up or shank the ball over the top. This time, I was able to take my time and place it.”
Butler broke a scoreless tie in the 64th minute on a feed from Sebastian Kufa to give the Indians a 1-0, handing the league rival Tuskers their fifth loss in a row.
“I had a conversation with them about enjoying the game, and there shouldn’t be too much pressure on them,” Somers coach James Palumbo said. “It’s high school soccer. Go out there and have fun. They might have interpreted that as, ‘Let me go out there and just la de da, and the game is going to come to me.’ No, whenever you go out and play a team, you have to battle. You have to fight for a win.”
Both teams had trouble getting into the flow of the game in the first half, with Mahopac (5-2) managing just two shots on goal and Somers failing to take any. The lack of offensively pressure from the Tuskers (3-5) was addressed during Palumbo’s fiery halftime speech.
“At halftime I just told them, ‘You have to wake up,’ ” he said. “In the first half, I felt that guys were tentative going forward. We just have to play more as a team.”
Somers seemed to respond to their coach’s plea with a 15-minute stretch in which they controlled possession and created some quality opportunities, but Mahopac goalie Mike Bernardi made all four of his saves in that span.
“Games like these are tough because the whole first half I could not have a save, and then the second half there’s a 10-15 minute span where you have three or four saves,” Bernardi said. “It’s all about staying focused. If I lose focus or get lost in the game for those 10-15 minutes, it could be a different game.”
After the Indians weathered the storm, they were able to strike on a counter attack, with Kufa sending a ball over the top of the defense and Butler outrunning them to it. Mahopac nearly added a second goal in the 73rd minute when Kufa crossed to Jared Milian right in front of the goal, but his shot went off of the post.
The Indians will conclude a big week of league play with a trip to Ketcham on Friday. They lost 3-1 to top-ranked Arlington on Monday.
“We have a big game coming up on Friday against Ketcham, and Ketcham just got off a big win against John Jay-East Fishkill,” Bernardi said. “We picked up some momentum to go into Friday, and we’ll hopefully we’ll get the win that day, too.”
• This certainly wasn’t the prettiest game that I’ve seen, but that seems to be how Mahopac likes it. The Indians bring back eight starters from last season, so they have a very poised and experienced group, but they no longer have Joey Iraola to create goals up top. He was arguably the most explosive scorer in the section last year, but this Mahopac team is a more defensive-oriented club thanks to the presence of Bernardi and veteran defenders such as Ryan Conlin and Jesse Lichtman. “I definitely have confidence that we can win playing this style,” Bernardi said. “We’re not the type of team that’s going to put in three or four goals in a game, but I can guarantee that we won’t give up that many.”
• I’ve had several opposing coaches call Bernardi the best keeper in the section, which is high praise for the junior. He didn’t have to work especially hard for most of this game, but he was up to the task during the stretch in which Somers seemed to turn on the heat. You could see what coaches love about him—he’s big, lanky, athletic and very talkative in the back. And I can recall him making some spectacular saves against Carmel in last year’s Class AA quarterfinal.
• On a side note, Iraola has been killing it at American University in his freshman season. He was just named the Patriot League Rookie of the Week. Nick Schiera has been Mahopac’s leading scorer, but it’s definitely been more of a scoring-by-committee approach. “We have a lot of guys that have stepped up,” Bernardi said. “I would say that probably four or five guys have one or two goals apiece, and that’s what it takes to replace a person like Joey.”
• Here’s Butler talking about the game-winning goal: “We were getting the ball out from the back, and Sebastian ended up settling it,” he said. “He saw that there was space above their defense, so he played it up. I was able to beat their defense and get over. I took my time and knew where the goalie was. I just shot it from there.”
• Coming off of a trip to the Class A semis last season, expectations were relatively high for Somers. The Tuskers started off 3-0, but have really stumbled in the past two weeks. Their league schedule is brutal—I think it’s the toughest league in Section 1—but Palumbo was upset about the effort that he saw, particularly in the first half. The team seems to be lacking confidence, but that’s something that can easily change with a big win or two. “In the second half it was a lot better, but then – like in every single game in the past four games, and this is the fifth in a row – one mistake and we lose 1-0,” Palumbo said. “It’s immaturity, it’s a lack of concentration and we lose a game by one goal. It happens continuously.”
Best of the rest: Erick Naranjo scored twice in Fox Lane’s 4-1 win over visiting Harrison. … Tom Young scored twice in Edgemont’s 3-1 win at home over Dobbs Ferry. … Stefan Spal scored the winning goal on an assist from Billy Pappas with less than 12 minutes remaining in John Jay’s 1-0 win over visiting Yorktown. … Steven Hernandez had two goals and an assist in Port Chester’s 7-3 win at home over Ossining. … Carmine Cicchillo had three goals and an assist in Westlake’s 5-2 win over visiting Pleasantville. … Takahiro Asai had a hat trick in Keio’s 7-0 win at home over Arlington B. … Fernando Martinez had a goal and an assist in Valhalla’s 4-0 win over visiting Rye. … Devin Flanagan assisted on both goals in Lakeland’s 2-1 win at Lourdes. … Takuno Nishimura scored twice in Rye Neck’s 3-0 win at Croton-Harmon. … Weston Maxwell scored twice in Woodlands’ 6-1 win over visiting Tuckahoe. … Scott Wurtzel shut out Hamilton in Blind Brook’s 3-0 win at home. … Anders Spittal scored the lone goal in Putnam Valley’s 1-0 win over visiting Peekskill. … Canterbury won 1-0 at Rye Country Day. … Byram Hills and Horace Greeley played to a 0-0 tie. The Bobcats, who are ranked No. 1 in Class A, are now 8-0-1.
Video by Vincent Z. Mercogliano