GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. – With two teams so evenly matched, the margin of error was tiny in Monday’s Western Massachusetts Division 3 boys soccer quarter-final. The visiting Mount Greylock Mounties and host Monument Mountain Spartans split the season series, and it would have surprised no one had the match gone to extra time or even a penalty kick shootout.
An own goal early on prevented that scenario, as Mount Greylock earned a 1-0 victory to stun the host Spartans on their own field. The Mounties (9-6-2) advance to the semi-finals, where they will face the winner of Tuesday's game between Belchertown and Southwick.
The ball made it into the home net off a Spartans player with 27:24 remaining in the first half, and Mount Greylock managed to hold off every attempt Monument Mountain made to equalize that one mistake.
Mounties goalkeeper David Falk recorded six saves, with four of those coming in the second half. The Spartans took 12 shots on goal, but were unable to get one through.
“It feels great, but a shutout is definitely about a lot of teamwork,” Falk said. “It starts with the back line being phenomenal, and then Julius [Munemo] and all of our midfield. I just clean up the random stuff that gets through. Really, I am probably the least important part of a shutout.”
Monument (12-6-1) was aggressive from the start, pushing the ball on offense with an up-tempo approach. The Spartans maintained that intensity all throughout the action.
“I think we were controlling most of the run of play in the first half,” Monument Mountain coach Matt Naventi said. “They countered on us one time, which we know their counterattack is how they score most of their goals. They did a good job of controlling the start of the second half too, and created some looks. They took it to us for a little while after that, but we made some adjustments and controlled the last fifteen minutes, we just couldn’t crack them. We were on the wrong side of it today, but it was a great game.”
One of the things that the Spartans struggled with during the season was getting good looks on the goal, and down the stretch on Monday they again had a tough time finding those open looks they wanted. The team made some tactical adjustments heading into the match, looking to correct some of the things that went wrong in their loss to the Mounties during the season, while building off of what worked in their victory.
“I think we did well in responding to what we knew we were going to be facing,” Naventi said. “We just didn’t capitalize on a couple of opportunities that we had.”
Mount Greylock did not find many scoring chances early on, and had just two shots in the first half. But the Mounties came out firing in the second half, taking nine shots while working into their opponent’s side of the field with more regularity.
“We felt like we got off to a slow start, and in the second half we kind of got into our flow,” Falk said. “We couldn’t put any points on the board, but having control of the ball is time that they don’t have to score.”
Monument goalkeeper Rhys Curtis recorded five saves to help keep his club alive and give it a chance at tying it back up. Things got tougher for Curtis and the defense late in the action, as the Mounties began to push the ball with greater offensive success.
“We stretched Finn Welch up a little higher and tried to put him on the last defender, and honestly we were just trying to knock it past the defenders and try to have him run on,” Mounties coach Blair Dils said about the adjustments they made during the game. “Just with the conditions, it wasn’t conducive to pretty soccer today. We just tried to keep it as simple as possible and hope to get one. But I’m really proud of the defense and the job they did in holding strong all the way to the end there.”
With the amount of rain and the number of games held on the field recently, the playing surface was challenging for both sides. It only further equalized things between two county rivals that are already so evenly matched.
Having fallen on the wrong end of such a tight battle, the Spartans were left to reflect on the team they were this season and what that can build for in the seasons ahead.
“It’s such a coachable group of kids that progressed through the season,” Naventi said. “We didn’t have personality issues this year; we had great leadership from our seniors. Hopefully they sent a good message and set a good tone for the underclassmen, because we play a lot of sophomores. They’ll carry it for the next couple of years, and hopefully we can look forward to next year and getting a little bit further.”