Phoenixville for­ti­fies top seed with win at Up­per Me­rion

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - SPORTS - By An­drew Robin­son arobin­son@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com

KING OF PRUS­SIA » At the start of the sea­son, Up­per Me­rion boys’ soc­cer coach Thomas Dodds wasn’t sure what his team would shape up to be.

Thanks to his se­nior class, Dodds has been pleas­antly sur­prised with the way the Vik­ings sea­son has gone. Thurs­day night, with those se­niors be­ing hon­ored un­der the lights, Up­per Me­rion had a chance to lock up a spot in the Pi­o­neer Ath­letic Con­fer­ence Fi­nal Four, some­thing that not many peo­ple may have pegged them for back in Au­gust.

Stand­ing in their way was the top seed in the PAC, Phoenixville. The Phan­toms did prove to be too much on the field, top­ping UM 3-1, but the Vik­ings still qual­i­fied for the con­fer­ence tour­na­ment via Methac­ton’s loss to Perkiomen Val­ley.

“It’s a char­ac­ter team,” Dodds said. “They have plenty of char­ac­ter, they work hard. They don’t get down, they keep fight­ing and you saw it tonight. They fight to the end.”

Beat­ing Phoenixville is very dif­fi­cult, given that only one team has done it so far this fall and the Phan­toms knew they were com­ing into a tough en­vi­ron­ment on Thurs­day. The Phan­toms wanted to try and get some­thing early to make Up­per Me­rion have to chase the game.

Af­ter throw­ing tons of pres­sure up early, the Phan­toms got what they wanted in the 11th minute when se­nior mid­fielder Kyle Tucker played a gor­geous through ball to for­ward Jared Car­boy. Car­boy con­verted a shot from a tough an­gle in­side the near post for the tally.

“Right from the be­gin­ning it seemed like they were con­cerned about our at­tack and they were re­ally fo­cused on hav­ing a lot of guys be­hind the ball,” Phoenixville coach Mike Ce­sarski said. “Thank­fully scor­ing early forces them to have to change their plans and the game opened up a lit­tle bit more. They were re­ally dan­ger­ous from their set pieces and throwins, their phys­i­cal­ity in the box re­ally caused us a lot of problems.”

Tucker, who as­sisted two of the three Phoenixville goals, scored what would be­come the game-win­ner on a penalty kick with 17:51 left in the first half. A Vik­ings de­fender went to ground to try and clear a ball but the of­fi­cial ruled that it hit his hand af­ter his foot while still in the box, award­ing the spot kick.

Up­per Me­rion again showed its re­solve by get­ting it­self right back into the match. The Vik­ings, who had seven cor­ners kicks in the game, got a goal back with 16 min­utes to play in the first half. A runner dum­mied a shot off a cor­ner, al­low­ing se­nior Lorenzo Man­cino to strike the rolling ball, send­ing it through a crowd into the back of the net.

“I did my Master’s the­sis on set pieces so I know how im­por­tant they are,” Dodds said. “Close to 35 per­cent of goals come from them, but it’s the same with defending. We gave up one at the end and we’ve strug­gled with that. At­tack­ing-wise, we can make things hap­pen and they did a nice job ex­e­cut­ing one of them.”

JT Stevens headed in a Tucker cor­ner kick with 2:45 to go that sealed up the win for Phoenixville. The Phan­toms are also a pretty re­silient group, and they’ve em­braced the suc­cess the sea­son has brought them.

It’s not just Tucker ei­ther, the en­tire group works hard for 80 min­utes and has the type of grinders that com­ple­ment the of­fen­sive threats the Phan­toms can run out on a given night.

“This is not a group where their heads are go­ing to drop when they give up a goal,” Ce­sarski said. “I think part of it is when you’re con­fi­dent in the skill you have at­tack­ing-wise, giv­ing up one goal against a good team, you’re still con­fi­dent you can do some­thing. That’s the men­tal­ity for our team, they’re con­fi­dent, they know they can score, our goal dif­fer­en­tial is very good and they have a good con­fi­dence in the suc­cess we’ve had.”

Dodds said his en­tire team has been great and very coach­able this sea­son, which ex­tends down from the se­niors. UM has had some close losses to top-level com­pe­ti­tion, which showed Dodds his group had some­thing spe­cial this sea­son.

A post­sea­son berth, with the Vik­ings in good stand­ing to qual­ify for the District 1-3A bracket, would be a de­served re­ward in their coach’s eyes.

“We’re right there and it’s frus­trat­ing, but it’s also a credit to th­ese guys,” Dodds said. “We never would have thought we’d been hang­ing with th­ese teams. I was pleased with the ef­fort tonight too, we made a cou­ple mis­takes but over­all, we did well out there.”

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