With the blustery weather playing a factor throughout the contest, it would be the Middletown Cavaliers controlled the the pace of play throughout most of Saturday’s opening round of the DIAA Division I State Soccer Tournament at Milford’s Briggs Stadium.
That same wind that would give Milford life in the game’s 60th minute, only for the Buccaneers to have it rapidly snatched away just a minute later, giving the game to Middletown, 2-1
With Milford trailing 1-0 following a first half that saw them on the back foot for most of the run of play, the Buccaneers senior captain let fly from 20 yards out and 20 yards wide of the goal as the third period was in stoppage time.
The ball may have been as high as it was long. The wind did the rest. Instead of a harmless ball over the bar, the ball found the back of the net, and Milford was suddenly even on terms at 1-1.
Cavalier’s coach Anthony Dirienzo said he suspected there would be a goal of that nature during the contest.
“You have to expect things like that to happen when you play under these conditions,” he said. “What is important is how you respond when you are faced with adversity.”
Respond is exactly what Middletown would do, quickly gathering themselves and putting themselves back in front in rapid fashion.
Early in the first half, senior Eric Johnson had been stopped by Milford keeper and senior Kirk Hammer. He was not about to let that happen again.
Splitting between two Buccaneer defenders, Johnson was off to the races and there was nothing between him and the goal except Hammer. Johnson didn’t miss this time.
“I knew how big the goal was, so I settled myself mentally and just made sure I didn’t make a mistake,” he said.
Johnson’s strike from 20 yards out left Hammer flat-footed and gave Middletown the 2-1 advantage, which they would maintain till the clock hit zero.
“Having missed a few opportunities in the first half, I wasn’t going to miss that one, no way,” Johnson said.
The first half had witnessed Middletown attacking from the start, while unable to find the back of the net early, it was clear what the approach was going to be from the start.
“Having watched them on tape, we felt the best way to approach them [Milford] was to try and beat them at their own game,” Dirienzo said. “We felt that we would be just a bit more physical and that is what we took advantage of. “
The game’s opening goal was courtesy of Middletown senior defender Raymond Kelly midway through the first half. He struck the ball on a free kick from 35 yards out, hard and low. It found its way through the Milford wall and squeaked in on the right side of the goal, past a stretching Hammer.
While the goal was important, it was the defensive presence of Kelly which stood out throughout the contest.
“The goal was nice, but that was just a small part of what we did tonight,” Kelly said. “We held a tight back line and me and the rest of the defense got the job done against a very talented team.”
With the victory, Middletown will move on to face Salesianum Wednesday, Dec. 9. The Cavaliers will have to quickly put this victory behind them to compete against the number two seed in the tournament ,
“That is a team that is always talented and if you don’t bring your best, you don’t stand a chance,” Dirienzo said. “We will take a look and consider the tactics that we will need to compete.”