strongEvan Sporer, Beacon Staff/strong
A goal in soccer usually swings momentum in the direction of the scoring team.
But as Jacob Lawrence knotted the score at two against Emmanuel on Saturday, the momentum shifted in favor of the visiting Saints.
And then, 45 minutes later, the Emerson men’s soccer season was over.
In what turned into a back-and-forth physical contest, Emmanuel scored with just nine minutes left in the game, as the Saints rallied past Emerson to advance to the Great Northeast Athletic Conference semifinals with a 3-2 victory.
Emerson took the lead early on, as the Lions established a heavy presence in the Emmanuel half of the field from the onset. As the Saints scrambled to clear the ball away from danger, it landed on the foot of Ken Nikravesh. The senior played it back into the Emmanuel half to Lawrence, and with the Saints’ defenders caught off balance, the Emerson forward blazed into the open field. With only the goalkeeper to beat, Lawrence neatly slid the ball into the bottom right corner of the net, giving the Lions an early 1-0 advantage.
“Next five,” yelled Emerson’s players and bench after the score, reminding the team to stay composed and levelheaded in the five minutes after the goal.
But six minutes later, Emmanuel evened the tilt.
With the Saints maintaining possession in the Lions half of the field, Danny Richman weaved through a host of Emerson defenders, and laid the ball off to Jeremy Scanlon. With plenty of time and space, Scanlon collected himself, and fired a shot that eluded goalkeeper Noah Price to even the score at one.
“It bounced off somebody’s foot, here-there, boom-boom, and then all of a sudden there’s a guy wide open, and he’s only about 14 yards away with all the time in the world to sort of wind up and shoot,” Price said.
Emmanuel used its momentum from the score to keep up the pressure. With Emerson reeling from conceding a goal, the Saints drew a foul deep in Emerson’s end. As Richman stepped up to take the kick, he again picked out Scanlon, who flicked a header past Price to give Emmanuel a 2-1 lead.
But Emerson was not finished.
“It was important that we had learned the lesson [earlier in the season] that we could be down and come back to win,” said Jared Scarpaci, the team’s head coach.
The Lions clawed back, and again started to establish a presence near the Emmanuel goal. With the Saints again frantically trying to clear the ball, the referee called a Saints defender for an illegal pass-back to the goalkeeper. The infraction set the Lions up with an indirect kick only yards away from the goal.
And with a chance to tie the game, Lawrence stepped up, and delivered with a high soccer I.Q. play.
On an indirect kick, the ball needs to touch a second player after the kick is taken before it can score. With a small window, Lawrence tattooed the ball with the outside of his right foot, directly at the goalkeeper, who fumbled the ball as it crossed the goal line.
Had the ball directly gone in off Lawrence’s foot, the play would have been whistled dead. But a crafty Lawrence put enough pace and spin on the ball to send it off the goalkeeper, and onto the scoreboard, tying the game at two, just minutes before halftime.
“They set up their wall poorly, and I just had a wide-open shot at the goal,” Lawrence said. “Their goalie wasn’t positioned right, so I gave it a kick right where I wanted to, and luckily the goalie hit it. There was a little luck, but you’ve got to make your own luck.”
For Emerson, it provided the team with new life entering the second half.
But it was the Saints that took advantage of the goal.
The Emmanuel players and coaches all felt Lawrence’s shot went directly into the goal, and should have been disallowed. The players and coaching staff berated the referee, pleading their case to no avail. Behind the frustration of Lawrence’s tally, combined with a fiery halftime speech from the team’s captains that could be heard throughout Rotch Field, the Saints entered the second half a squad renewed.
Emmanuel upped its intensity, and took it to the Lions. While the Saints managed seven shots in the second half, Emerson could only muster three. Where Emmanuel dominated the possession and dictated the pace of play, the Lions were left scrambling, as they committed 19 second-half fouls.
“It was hard to get [offensive] chances because we had so many fouls, just a lot of rookie players just fouling, and just really disrupting our game,” Lawrence said. “We couldn’t get the ball up into our offense because of all the fouling.”
Still, the Lions kept the score even. Price stopped Mathew Koenemann from point blank in the 53rd minute to preserve the tie game. Emerson did not record a shot on goal in the second half, and it looked as if the match would go into overtime, as Price and the defense were unwilling to budge.
But with nine minutes left, Emmanuel finally broke through.
Emerson attempted to clear the ball after a sustained Saints attack, but it did not go far enough. The ball ended up in front of Kevin Esposito, who wound up and delivered a bomb 30 yards from goal. The ball soared through the air, carried by the wind, and into the top corner of the net, just past the outstretched fingertips of Price.
“As a goalie, for me, every single goal I let in gets replayed in my head. I wonder, ‘could I have stopped it, what I could have done differently,’” Price said. “All three of them I’d like to have back.”
With nine minutes left to salvage their season, the Lions went into a frenzy to even up the score. Scarpaci moved Nikravesh from the defense up to offense. The Lions threw every ball they found in Emmanuel’s direction. But the Saints remained composed, and just like that, the Lions’ season was over with a 3-2 loss.
“I knew when it was tied, whoever scored next was going to win the game,” Scarpaci said. “If they would have scored in the 46th minute, in the first minute of the second half, they would have won the game. And if we did the same, we would have won the game.”
emSporer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ ev_sporer/em