Soccer: ConVal boys fall in first home game since 2019

  • The ConVal boys soccer team lost its rematch of the 2019 Division II title game with Lebanon 4-0 on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys soccer team lost its rematch of the 2019 Division II title game with Lebanon 4-0 on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys soccer team lost its rematch of the 2019 Division II title game with Lebanon 4-0 on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys soccer team lost its rematch of the 2019 Division II title game with Lebanon 4-0 on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys soccer team lost its rematch of the 2019 Division II title game with Lebanon 4-0 on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys soccer team lost its rematch of the 2019 Division II title game with Lebanon 4-0 on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys soccer team lost its rematch of the 2019 Division II title game with Lebanon 4-0 on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys soccer team lost its rematch of the 2019 Division II title game with Lebanon 4-0 on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/7/2021 7:42:23 AM

The last time the ConVal boys’ soccer team played a game that mattered on its home field was in the 2019 Division II quarterfinals. The last time the Cougars played Friday’s opponent Lebanon was in their 1-0 win in the 2019 Division II championship game – which capped off its second of back-to-back titles.

Both of those contests had a much more favorable result than Friday’s 4-0 loss.

But coach Josh Smith knew there were going to be growing pains along the way as ConVal embarked on its 2021 season. After being unable to play in 2020 due to school protocols put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Smith only returned two players this season who had started a total of one varsity game each.

“There are probably six or seven guys who were on that team that played in games that year, but as far as leaders and the guys in charge of the result, we didn’t have that, so we’re trying to sort through that and figure out what that’s going to look like,” Smith said. “Our primary goal is trying to figure out what we can do today to make us better tomorrow. It’s about all the stuff in between to get there. It’s a process and every day we get a little bit further in the process.”

So outcomes like Friday’s contest with Lebanon and the 5-0 defeat at Bow, last year’s Division II runner-up, earlier in the week, were to be expected. For Smith, it’s about working each day to become a more cohesive unit and getting that all-important game experience playing together.

“It’s good to be back obviously, we all missed it,” Smith said.

ConVal graduated 15 seniors from that second straight championship team and the 2020 season was going to be the younger group’s chance to take the reins and usher in a new era of Cougar soccer. And only being able to practice in separated pods meant the ability to truly work as a team just wasn’t going to happen.

“We have a lot of good players so we’re trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together,” Smith said.

But early season contests against the likes of Bow and Lebanon, both perennial powers in Division II, gives Smith an idea of where the Cougars stand in the early going and what they need to work on in order to get back to the level of competing for a championship. And for much of each game, ConVal was battling, only trailing 1-0 at the half.

“For a large part of the game were in the game,” Smith said. “We were right there, we had chances. We were locked in for a longer period than we were Tuesday. We really kept pushing, fighting to make something happen.”

Lebanon had its chance to jump ahead in the opening minute, but Nicholas Brill’s shot went just wide of the post after getting it past a charging Zach Burgess, ConVal’s senior keeper. With a little over 11 minutes gone by in the opening frame, Burgess made a huge jumping save to knock Will McGee’s header from just a few feet out over the crossbar. Two minutes later, Lebanon’s Ryan Oliveira’s shot hit the left post.

“All I was trying to do was get a hand on it,” Burgess said of the header save. “I was lucky to find the ball off the deflection. It was a hard shot.”

But ConVal was able to weather the Raiders aggressive approach and controlling style of play for much of the first half to keep it a scoreless game. But with just over 10 minutes left before the break, Oliveira finally made good on one of the Raiders many close chances when he took a pass from Kris Putans in the middle of the box and beat Burgess to the left side.

Despite being down a goal, ConVal was still within striking distance. Smith felt his team was just a couple of good passes away from being able to tally the equalizer. But being a younger team with just five seniors, the Cougars are still learning the art of playing with anticipation and it was that final pass from the midfield line to the forwards that wasn’t quite there.

“We were playing okay in the midfield, but we’re just a little disconnected,” Burgess said. “If we played last year we’d be looking completely different right now. It would have really helped us just to get that experience.”

The defensive unit of Carter Rousseau, Harry Bernier, Austin Klonel and Owen Kotula were up for the challenge against the experienced attacking unit of Lebanon.

“In the back we played decent for most of the game,” Burgess said, citing just a couple mistakes down the stretch as the difference.

It remained a one goal game for the first 24-plus minutes of the second half before Oliveira once again beat Burgess to the left corner. A few defensive breakdowns led to Lebanon adding two more from Putans and Ben Katz in the final five minutes for the final 4-0 score.

“I think as the game wore on we maybe grew a bit more tired,” Smith said. “They’re a little bit bigger, a little more physical.”

Lebanon coach Rob Johnstone agreed.

“I do think we wore them down. We’re a little more of a veteran team,” he said. “The question was can we get into their comfort space, can we make the guy with the ball really feel under pressure.”

But he also had high praise for the Cougars.

“I said to Josh I do think they’re close,” Johnstone said. “You can tell they’re close. Many times we were like a half a second away from real danger.”

ConVal returns to action on Tuesday when they travel to Souhegan.


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