UNION – Visiting Cranford did not play its brand of soccer for the first 40 minutes, but still managed to produce a one-goal halftime lead.
Host Union, with far less returning starters, hung in there and matched the Cougars in field position for much of the first half.
Was is just a matter of time for Cranford? Perhaps.
The Cougars were far more dominant in the second half, using their experience to push past a Farmer squad that kept up with them for as long as they could.
Cranford scored the game’s final four goals, including all three in the second half, on its way to a convincing 5-1 win over Union in Tuesday afternoon’s Union County Conference-Watchung Division girls’ soccer match at Volunteer Park.
Cranford improved to 3-0 overall and 2-0 in the six-team Watchung Division, while Union slipped to 1-1 overall and 0-1 in the division.
The Cougars received goals from five different players and in this order: Sophia Montague on a header and Nellie Clark from long range in the first half and Maggie Murray, Brooke Swandrak and Riley Korzeneski in the second.
Union’s lone goal came off the right foot of senior midfielder Hailey Goncalves.
“In the first half we made a few sloppy plays and dumb mistakes and it was a bit frustrating,” said Murray, Cranford’s All-State player who had one goal and two assists. “In the second half we played our game, which is on the ground, clean, no booting and being aggressive.”
Cranford returns nine starters, with the only two lost to graduation being Lauren Williamson and Sofia Ambrosia. Another key senior from last year’s 18-4 squad was Kenzie Butler.
Cranford split with Union last year, winning 3-1 at home and then losing 2-1 in overtime at Union, which was Cranford’s first loss.
The Cougars went on to win the Watchung Division championship outright and also reached the Union County Tournament and North 2, Group 3 finals.
Union’s only two returning starters are seniors Riley Haggerty and Kelly Severini
Cranford’s play the first 45 minutes was certainly not indicative of a state-ranked team, the Cougars are ranked 17th this week, vs. a squad with much less experience.
“In the first half our touches were off and our space was off,” Cranford head coach Andrew Gagliardo said. “At halftime we said that we had to take it to them and that’s how we usually play.
“We’re still not gelling completely, but in the second half we were better all over the field and finished our opportunities. We had some opportunities in the first half that we were not able to take advantage of.”
Gagliardo told his players following the final whistle: “You guys played much better in the second half, but it’s still not where we want to be. We can’t forget how poorly we started. Between the ears is very important.”
Union head coach Cassiano Dos Santos had this to say about his team’s performance: “the first 25 minutes we dominated, although we were down 2-1. We then fell asleep the final 15 minutes of the first half.
“Then we didn’t show up in the second half. There are a lot of things to fix. We have a lot of girls who are leaning to play now. Although we have just two returning starters we do have 10 seniors.”
Cranford, which opened with a 4-3 division win at home over Oak Knoll on Sept. 4 and then defeated visiting Lawrence 2-1 on Sept. 7, broke the scoreless deadlock with the game’s first goal six minutes in. Murray sent a left-footed pass across the penalty box from the left side that reached Montague, who headed the ball past Union goalkeeper Faith Cardillo.
Union was not deflated by the goal, which it argued was off sides, at all and managed to tie the game at 1-1 just five minutes later. After a ball got through the middle of the field, Goncalves took possession on the right side and drilled a shot past Cranford goalie Amanda Vath, just inside the penalty box.
A shot by Union junior forward Kayla Willis was saved by Vath seven minutes later and then Cranford senior Claire Ganley thwarted Union sophomore midfielder Reagan Leavy the following minute.
Cranford then managed to take the lead for good at 2-1 at the 16:31 mark. Clark took possession and kicked a shot from about 40 feet away that bounced over Cardillo and into the net.
Cranford junior Josie Gunther fired a shot that Cardillo saved with both hands some six minutes later.
Union committed a hand ball infraction inside the penalty box with less than five minutes in the half, with Cranford awarded a penalty kick. However, Laurel Teel’s shot went just wide left, with the score remaining 2-1.
Korzeneski had Cranford’s final quality scoring chance before intermission, with her shot saved by Cardillo, who grabbed the ball with both hands diving to her right.
Murray’s goal, her third of the year, extended Cranford’s lead to 3-1 at the 26:27 mark of the second half. Cranford senior Zoe Trotta raced down the left sideline with the ball and then sent a pass through to the middle of the penalty box. Murray was able to flick the ball with the side of her right foot. The ball first hit the crossbar, then came out and went in the goal off Cardillo.
Four minutes later Cranford freshman Aileen McGovern took a shot from inside the penalty box that hit the right post.
Cardillo was replaced in goal by senior Kassandra Campbell at the 19:20 mark after Cardillo was holding her head with both hands following contact.
Swandrak’s goal, her second of the year, came with 14 minutes to go. Then Korzeneski closed the scoring with her third goal of the season with less than two minutes remaining.
Korzeneski, who scored against Union in Cranford’s home win over the Farmers last year, has scored in all three Cranford matches.
“We did lose a few key players, like most teams, but we do have a chance to have a great season if we work hard,” said Murray, a four-year starter who has not committed to a college yet. “We made it to two finals last year and did win our conference, but we would like to be able to put up a banner in the school.
“We really just want to be the best team we can be.”
Union opened with a 5-1 win at North Bergen Sept. 7, with Willis and Leavy scoring twice and Goncalves once. Assists went to Goncalves, Leavy and junior Isabella Grof-Tisza.
“We were able to stay with them (Cranford) for 25 minutes, which is good for us,” Dos Santos said. “We now need to play like that for 80 minutes.
“The atmosphere is a lot better. All the girls are getting along well. They need to put their communication on the field and translate it into the game.”
NOTES: The Watchung Division consists of: Cranford, Union, Scotch Plains, Westfield, Summit and Oak Knoll.
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-WATCHUNG DIVISION MATCH
AT VOLUNTEER PARK ON STANLEY TERRACE IN UNION
Cranford (3-0, 2-0) 2 3 – 5
Union (1-1, 0-1) 1 0 – 1
FIRST HALF SCORING:
Cranford – Goal: Sophia Montague (No. 16). Assist: Maggie Murray (No 7).
Union – Goal: Hailey Goncalves (No. 8). Assist: Isabella Grof-Tisza (No. 11).
Cranford – Goal: Nellie Clark (No. 25).
SECOND HALF SCORING:
Cranford – Goal: Maggie Murray (No. 7). Assist: Zoe Trotta (No. 1).
Cranford – Goal: Brooke Swandrak (No. 11). Assist: Maggie Murray (No. 7).
Cranford – Goal: Riley Korzeneski (No. 3). Assist: Brooke Swandrak (No. 11).
CRANFORD COUGARS (3-0, 2-0)
1-Zoe Trotta, senior
2-Kirsten Williams, junior
3-Riley Korzeneski, sophomore
5-Aileen McGovern, freshman
6-Gabriella Baiada, freshman
7-Maggie Murray, senior
8-Claire Ganley, senior
10-Josie Gunther, junior
11-Brooke Swandrak, senior
12-Laura Teel, senior
14-Madison Flynn, senior
16-Sophia Montague, junior
19-Abby Ahern, junior
20-Morgan Heim, junior
22-Caroline Ewing, senior
25-Nellie Clark, senior
GK-Maya Jones, sensior
GK-Amanda Vath, junior
Maggie Murray, Claire Ganley, Laurel Teel, Abby Ahern.
Head coach: Andrew Gagliardo, fourth year
Assistant coach: Lindsey Fisk
UNION FARMERS (1-1, 0-1)
2-Kayla Goncalves, senior, center midfield
4-Riley Haggerty, senior, midfield-defense
8-Hailey Goncalves, senior, midfield
9-Ally Muhlstock, senior, defender
10-Kayla Willis, junior, forward
11-Isabella Grof-Tisza, junior, midfield-forward
11-Faith Cardillo, freshman, goalkeeper
12-Reagan Leavy, sophomore, midfield
13-Maria Monteiro, freshman, defense
16-Yulianna Amador, sophomore, center defense
18-Ana Brun, senior, forward
19-Kayla Oliveira, senior, defense-midfield
20-Emily Arias, sophomore, defense-midfield
22-Kelly Severini, senior, midfield
23-Syndey Mainor, sophomore, center defense
26-Jasmine Biggs, junior, goalkeeper
27-Emma DaSilva, senior, midfield
30-Kassandra Campbell, senior, goalkeeper
Riley Haggerty, Isabella Grof-Tisza, Kelly Severini.
Head coach: Cassiano Dos Santos, fourth year
Assistant coach: Jessica Smith