CRANFORD – Cranford boys’ soccer coach Greg Campbell was not particularly pleased with his team’s performance.
“The second half was one of the worst halves we’ve played,” said Campbell, in his sixth season at the helm of the Cranford Cougars. “We looked tired, we didn’t possess the ball, there was a delay in distribution and we gave up a lot of fouls in our half.”
Columbia coach Josh Russotto was also not enthralled with how his squad competed.
“Attitude and mindset,” said Russotto, in his fourth season at the helm of the Columbia Cougars. “One team came ready to play.”
Somebody had to win, right?
Actually, that’s not accurate. Since it was a regular season game with nothing on the line, the match could have ended in a tie following two scoreless overtime periods.
Because of the high heat and humidity, with what seemed like a smoky haze built as a background, both teams and also the fans in attendance were most likely thrilled that the game concluded in regulation time.
It turned out that the host team was a bit more fortunate as the Cranford Cougars produced the game’s only goal en route to a 1-0 triumph over the Columbia Cougars in Saturday’s out-of-county clash contested at Memorial Field.
Cranford won its third straight – all three wins in the last five days – to improve to 3-1. Cranford’s first four matches have all been decided by one goal. This was Cranford’s first shutout win of the season as well, coming in its 2017 home-opener.
Columbia lost for the second straight time – both matches by 1-0 scores on the road – to see its record even at 2-2.
Cranford senior Pierre LeDorze – a non-starter in his first year on varsity – netted his first varsity goal off an assist from senior Noah West just less than six minutes from intermission.
Backed up by a solid performance from Cranford senior goalkeeper Andrew Rojo, who produced his first shutout of the year, the goal stood up.
Neither team really produced any dangerous chances prior to the LeDorze goal.
On what West described as a direct free kick from the left side of the field, he pushed a ball high into the penalty box.
“I wanted to get it to the far post and to one of my teammates,” West said.
“I was trying to get around my man and I saw the ball coming in,” LeDorze said. “I lunged and was able to get my right foot on it.”
LeDorze kicked the ball just out of the reach of Columbia senior goalie Sam Maidenberg.
“It was a clean shot, not the hardest,” LeDorze said.
“That’s all it takes sometimes,” West said.
“Pierre is a real hard worker who has been getting a little more playing time due to injuries,” Campbell said.
The best chance for either team in the second half came from a direct kick taken by Columbia senior Max Finnamore less than two minutes in.
With a Cranford wall consisting of four players built in front of him to his left, Finnamore swerved a shot around it and to the right side of the goal.
Rojo dove to his left and batted away the ground ball shot which was ticketed for the right corner. Finnamore also took the ensuing corner kick, which came from the right side, and it was headed away by the Cranford defense.
“I tried to set up the wall as fast as I could because whenever there was a brief stoppage Columbia was very quick to get the play going again,” said Rojo, a four-year starter and two-year captain who is seeking to play at the next level. “I knew the wall had to the right of me covered.
“It was an easy save. I saw it and was able to punch it away.
“I prefer the ball in the air because the ground ball on the turf sometimes moves really fast and it takes getting used to.”
“Andrew played well and I think today was one of his better games,” Campbell said. “He made a couple of saves, was solid with his distribution and was really the anchor out there for us.”
Cranford defenders in front of Rojo were consistent in clearing the ball away in the second half, including tall junior James Coleman with his head at the 29 minute mark, junior Kevin Donovan two minutes after that, junior Christian Lijo with his foot at the 23 minute mark and then finally West with his left foot with just a minute to go.
Cranford’s best offensive chances in the second half included a pass from the left side to senior Steven Filimonczuk on the right, with Filimonczuk’s shot sailing just over the crossbar at 34:45.
With just less than 19 minutes to play, junior Brian Nigro – from the left side – sent a left-footed pass to senior Matt Medeiros in the middle, who had his shot stuffed by a double-leg save Maidenberg produced.
“We had a few opportunities,” LeDorze said. “The game could have gone either way.”
“This was our third game in five days, so we didn’t have real fresh legs,” West said. “We didn’t play our best, but we were still able to put up a ‘W.’”
Cranford won at Johnson 4-3 on Tuesday and at Summit 2-1 on Thursday for its first two victories following a season-opening non-division 1-0 Sept. 7 loss at defending Union County Tournament champion Westfield.
“We will take this win,” Campbell said. “A win is a win.
“I think it’s the sign of a quality team when it’s able to pull out an ugly one.”
“We had five guys out injured and two missed the bus,” Russotto said. “It wasn’t Columbia’s best day.
“It was a tight game and we thought we might rebound after they scored. It was a tough game.”
Cranford, which is situated in the Union County Conference’s Mountain Division along with Johnson, Summit, Governor Livingston and Linden, is coming off a 10-10 season, its best since the program’s 2009 campaign that included the UCT championship and a final, stellar 20-0-3 mark.
“We lost seven seniors, but have 13 back and also 10 juniors,” said Campbell, who seeks to guide the Cougars to their first winning season in eight years. “We have plenty of varsity experience.
“Things clicked for us at Summit.”
Cranford is 2-0 and alone in first place in the UCC’s Mountain Division standings and will next face division foes Governor Livingston and Linden in upcoming matches.
Columbia, presently tied with Caldwell for first place at 2-0 in the eight-team Liberty Division of the Super Essex Conference, went 7-10-2 in 2016.
COLUMBIA COUGARS (2-2):
1-Sam Maidenberg, senior goalkeeper
2-Frederick Hoffman, junior
3-Marc Alexandre, senior
7-Sammy Freedson, senior
8-Avery Coreschi, senior
13-Luke Scafidi, senior
14-Steven Kattouf, senior
15-Max Finnamore, senior
17-Cameron Donald, senior
19-Daniel Teitelbaum, sophomore
20-Connor Thompson, junior
Results to date:
Sept. 8: Columbia 3, Newark Academy 0 – at Newark Academy
Sept. 11: Columbia 1, Verona 0 – at Columbia
Sept. 13: West Orange 1, Columbia 0 – at West Orange
Sept. 16: Cranford 1, Columbia 0 – at Cranford
CRANFORD COUGARS (3-1):
1-Andrew Rojo, senior goalkeeper
3-Christian Lijo, junior
7-Dylan DePuy, senior
10-Michael Carracino, junior
12-Matt Medeiros, senior
Drew Patterson, junior
13-Noah West, senior
15-Kevin Donovan, junior
16-Kevin Murphy, senior
17-Steven Filimonczuk, senior
19-James Coleman, junior
Results to date:
Sept. 7: Westfield 1, Cranford 0 – at Westfield
Sept. 12: Cranford 4, Johnson 3 – at Johnson
Sept. 14: Cranford 2, Summit 1 – at Summit
Sept. 16: Cranford 1, Columbia 0 – at Cranford