As the Buffalo District Soccer League welcomes younger and younger teams, the more veteran sides are forced to call upon their soccer wisdom rather than rely on their fitness.
Despite blowing a two-goal lead, premier division's Clarence Yotes proved the savvier team in their 4-2 first-round Tehel Cup win over Orchard Park Alliance on Thursday at the Orchard Park Soccer Complex. The Yotes will now take on the WNY United Reds, who won in penalty kicks over Aurora Arsenal II, in the tournament's second round.
Former Canisius College winger Andrea Conte atoned for an early missed penalty kick by notching a brace, and veteran striker David Martinez struck a crucial insurance goal to give the Yotes breathing room.
"We have a lot of experience," emphasized Conte, one of six former Griffs on Clarence. "We settled the ball down and just connected, and eventually we got our chance and took it."
The premier team started fast. Clarence's Andrew Incho, back on the field after a serious injury cost him most of last year, put the visitors on the board in the eighth minute from the penalty spot; a nice hesitation move on the right side of the box froze an OP Alliance defender for a second, just enough for the attacker to gain a step advantage and be pulled down.
When Orchard Park keeper Dwight Eagen dove low and left, Incho placed his spot kick high to the right corner.
Just two minutes later, Conte took Orchard Park defender Drew Johnson one-vs.-one and a powerful challenge from the marker was deemed excessive, with the head referee pointing to the penalty mark for the second time in three minutes. Alliance disagreed vehemently, claiming it was a fair 50-50 challenge, and perhaps justice was served when Conte skied his penalty high over the crossbar.
"A forward forgets," Conte said about the missed penalty. "You have to forget quickly or it's going to drag [with you] the rest of the game."
The winger redeemed himself inside the next 10 minutes, as Derek Maier spotted Conte's diagonal run and slotted a perfectly weighted pass to his teammate, who made no mistake in picking out the side netting of Alliance's goal. A blowout seemed likely.
But a two-goal deficit didn't sap the fight from Orchard Park, as the youngsters (none of whom is 21) began to out-race Clarence to loose balls and shifted the pressure into the favorite's defensive third.
Just after OP Alliance's Noah Kohl dribbled at the heart of the Clarence defense, Clayton Galas pounced on a loose ball and creamed his shot off the bottom of the crossbar and in from 10 yards out. A few minutes later, Kohl equalized with a superb solo dribbling foray through three defenders before cranking a shot inside Len Previte's near post. Suddenly, both sides went into halftime square at 2.
A magical moment from Conte put the Yotes back in front again 10 minutes into the second frame. Former Syracuse forward Tyler Hamill slipped through defenders and swung a high cross toward Conte at the back post.
"The cross came in and I was going to bike it -- it was perfectly in the air for it -- but I just realized the defender was off me and I took a touch, and it went in," Conte explained. "Great ball by Tyler -- he beat two people and gave me a great ball in, credit to him."
Perhaps Conte was a little understated in his description, as his technical brilliance led to the highlight-reel goal. He settled the ball softly with his back to goal, spun to his left and cracked a low volley inside the far side-netting, letting out a celebratory howl in the process.
Clarence nursed its lead for the next 15 minutes, dodging a few long balls over the top that forced Previte to gather at the edge of the box before an onrushing OP Alliance forward. The match became increasingly chippy, too, as the head referee went to his pocket for a yellow card twice.
In the 72nd minute, Martinez's vicious right-footed volley from the half-circle atop the box buzzed through a crowd and found the left corner, letting Clarence kill the game off more comfortably.
[Read the BDSL Premier Division preview, of which Clarence is a part]
"Some of the young guys on the other team were chirping a little bit, and right after that, I told all of our guys, 'Don't talk, just finish,'" Martinez said post-game. "One of their guys had a nice header out, but it was only two or three yards up, so I got low, chested it down to myself and just cracked it through two or three guys and past the goalie."
In his fifth year with Clarence in premier, Martinez credited his team's guile and physicality for the outcome of the match. The Yotes abandoned a possession game due to the thick grass in Orchard Park, but the long-ball alternative actually played to Alliance's advantage in energy and pace.
"I told our team, 'Forget the kick and go, let's just pass it around and use our strength. Let's just use our man strength -- these kids are literally half our age, I'm 40 -- be quiet and play our game,'" recalled Martinez, and that attitude was enough to hold off another Alliance comeback.
Both Conte and Martinez credited Clarence's back line -- especially center halves Chris Cournan and Ryan Schroen -- for their steadiness.
"Schroen brings an incredible amount of experience -- all-region in high school, starter at Canisius every game and the captain there, so he brought every experience onto the field," Conte praised. "He gave us confidence and that's how we were able to win the game, essentially."
Clarence XI: Len Previte; Jordan Katz, Ryan Schroen, Mike Antkowiak, Chris Cournan; Andrea Conte, J.J. Hughes, Matt Sprague, Andrew Incho, Derek Maier, Tyler Hamill. Subs: David Martinez, John Siefert, Matt Schroen
Man of the match: Conte
OP Alliance XI: Dwight Eagen; Zach Alamari, Drew Johnson, Matthew Reilly, Michael Reilly; Jake Duggan, Noah Kohl, Matt Roder, Kurt Siegner, Wes Siegner, Clayton Galas. Subs: Alliance had two of them.
Man of the match: Alamari
Email Ben Tsujimoto, whose first attempt at photos has them looking like accidental Impressionist paintings, at firstname.lastname@example.org