Craig MacDonald wasn’t around when Pearl River lost to Pelham in last year’s Section 1 Class A title game, but he’d heard enough about it to know how much his teammates were looking forward to a rematch in Tuesday’s season-opener.
“Everybody let me know,” the sophomore striker said. “Coach (Damon O’Keefe) stressed the importance of doing the best that we could against these guys.”
Previously a member of World Class FC, a U.S. Academy team that prohibits participation in any high school sports, MacDonald made the decision to join his peers this season. And in his first game as a Pirate, he came up with a goal and an assist to lead Pearl River to a satisfying 2-0 win.
“He’s been doing amazing in practice,” senior midfielder Ethan Dowie said of MacDonald. “Right away when we knew that he came back from academy, we were like, ‘Wow, that replaces at least (recently graduated striker) Brian Chiarello.’ ”
After a scoreless first half, the Pelicans nearly went ahead on a header from Brendan Roche that was deflected just wide of the goal in the opening minute of the second half. The Pirates (1-0) gained possession off of the ensuing Pelham corner kick, and Manuel Arango found a streaking MacDonald for a breakaway goal.
“We knew coming in that we had to score early and jump on them,” MacDonald said. “As soon as I got the opportunity, I gave it to Manuel, and he gave me a great ball in.”
“It really just feels amazing,” Dowie said of the win. “Right when we lost, we just wanted this game back right away. We had to wait so long, and finally, we were able to finish it.”
The Pelicans (0-1) have had slow starts in the past, which coach Terence Huvane reminded his team of after the loss.
“Of course, we would have loved to have gotten out of here with a victory, but that didn’t happen,” he said. “You go to work every day, and you put things in perspective. It’s a long season, and what really matters is who’s going to be there at the end of the year when it’s not quite as warm as it is today. And we will be one of those teams.”
Here are more of my thoughts and observations from today’s game:
• The first 20 minutes were very evenly played, but Pearl River started to find its groove before halftime. The Pirates forced Pelham keeper Matt O’Neil to make three tough saves in that span, including one diving stop on a great opportunity for Kevin Doorley in the 23rd minute. “I really think that all of us – especially the forwards – wanted to stay back,” Dowie said. “We weren’t taking any shots, but once we got one shot down, we just kept going at them.”
• Once MacDonald found the back of the net in 42nd minute, it just felt like it was Pearl River’s day. Pelham struggled to create much offensively, while MacDonald began to show why the Pirates are so happy to have him. He nearly scored again in the 53rd minute, and in the 64th, he found Dowie with a perfectly-placed pass out wide to the right side. “I think the goal maybe rattled us for a few minutes and gave them a lot of confidence,” Huvane said. “We got a little disorganized in the back, and credit to the striker. He made a good run, pushed it ahead by himself and finished.”
• Here’s MacDonald on why he decided to play for his high school team this season. He didn’t start the game, but he made his presence felt once he entered. He already looks like Pearl River’s best offensive option. “It was a good spot over at World Class, but I decided that this would be best for me right now,” he said. “I think so far it was a good choice. It’s a great team with a lot of good kids on it.”
• Overall, O’Neil made 10 saves, a few of which were high-level of difficulty. It looks like Pelham has some solid pieces in the back with him and senior center back Otavio Basso, but they’re going to need to figure out how to generate goals without graduated stars Aidan Murray and Charlie Livingstone. It also doesn’t help that senior captain and defender Will Baffuto just went down with a groin injury that he told me should keep him out for two-to-three weeks. “It’s an area where we have to do a better job. We need some more offensive production,” Huvane said. “Defensively, we’re very, very strong, so if we can generate some offense, we’re going to be in good shape.”
• Let’s also give some credit to Pearl River’s defense. Vincenzo Galvano and Brendan Valentine are leaders in the back, and new keeper John Scrima made six saves. “Credit to Pearl River,” Huvane said. “They played a great game. They’re tough to beat on their home field. They have a lot of support, and they played a great game today.”
• It’s not going to get any easier for Pelham, which has Port Chester coming in on Saturday for its home opener. PC, by the way, beat Yonkers 7-0 today. “We know they’re a very strong team,” Huvane said. “They’re a class above us, and we get to look at Mr. (Steven) Hernandez for the first time, and see if he’s as advertised – and I know that he is. We have a lot of respect for them, a lot of respect for him, but we know one guy doesn’t make a team. We’re going to approach them like a full team and try to take away some of their offensive options. Defensively, if we can maybe take away him and force them to go to some of their other options, maybe we can contain them. It’s also our first home game, so I think that will juice us up a little bit.”
Best of the rest: In a rematch of two of the last three Class B title games, host Bronxville and three-time champ Blind Brook tied, 1-1. Joao Souza scored for the Trojans and James Burnell notched a goal for the Broncos. … Luis Morales and Miguel Coyt each scored twice in visiting Port Chester’s 7-0 win over Yonkers. … Lucas Pereira had a goal and an assist in Hastings’ 3-1 win at home over Solomon Schechter. … Peter Hoffmann scored in Haldane’s 1-0 win at Hen Hud.
Here are the rest of the scores that we received today (some games were postponed due to heat index rule):
Pearl River 2, Pelham 0
Bronxville 1, Blind Brook 1
Port Chester 7, Yonkers 0
Hastings 3, Solomon Schechter 1
Haldane 1, Hen Hud 0
Arlington 3, Ossining 2
Photos by Carucha L. Meuse/Video by Vincent Z. Mercogliano