Tigers' set pieces key win over Metea Valley
By Darryl Mellema
Any time an analysis is done of soccer goalscoring, the necessity of set-piece play becomes apparent – and Plainfield North showed the benefits of proficiency in such situations in Monday’s 3-1 nonconference victory over Metea Valley.
Two of the Tigers’ came directly from corner kicks while the third was from open play. Metea Valley’s goal came from a free kick, meaning three of the evening’s four goals came from set piece play.
“It’s something we spent a ton of time on this summer and this season,” Plainfield North coach Jim O’Hara said. “We had a bit of a mind change from the last couple of years as far as looking at the game of soccer and how so many goals are scored from set pieces.”
Set pieces – penalty kicks, corner kicks, free kicks or throw-ins – have long been known to be a critical component in a soccer team’s attack. An analysis of the 2006 World Cup undertaken by FIFA showed 28 percent of goals were scored from set pieces – and an identical percentage was seen from set piece play in the 2005-06 Champions League. In 2009, the English Premier League had gone four straight years where the percentage of set piece goals had not been below 30 percent.
So it is little wonder that Plainfield North, or any team for that matter, spends abundant time working on set pieces. In a match like Monday’s, the reward for those efforts showed abundantly on the scoreboard, but that has been a component of the team’s play all season.
“At the start of the season, we had a phenomenal start as far as goals in the box, goals off free kicks, corner kicks and long throws,” O’Hara said. “The last four games, we didn’t really get much. So we put our focus back on it and it paid off.”
And those set piece plays set a final score that looks wider than the disparity of play between the two teams on the field. In open play, Metea Valley (4-3-3) was every bit the equal of Plainfield North (9-1-1.)
“I don’t want to take anything away from them, because they earned the victory,” Metea Valley coach Josh Robinson said. “But I felt we knocked it around well, probably had a little more possession than them. But they finished and we didn’t. We had opportunities to finish and we didn’t.”
Plainfield North took the lead in the 14th minute of the match when Tyler Petprachan played a short corner kick play led to Tyler Petprachan crossing for Jake Novacek to score at the far post.
That goal separated the teams at halftime after a wide-open affair that saw numerous chances at either end of the field. Shortly after Novacek’s goal, a multi-player move saw Max Graf and Ryan Donovan combine in midfield before Donovan passed to Hubert Celinski, whose shot was saved by Plainfield North keeper Cade Fink.
Through the match, Fink kept the Tigers organized and made a series of key saves, showing once again the quality he has in his freshman year.
“As soon as we’re done talking here, I’m going to go get the game ball and give it to (Fink),” O’Hara said. “I have confidence in him back there. There’s not too many freshmen who are vocal and he’s not afraid to voice his opinion.”
With three seniors – Jake Novacek, Garrett Gathman and Sam Puglisi – to go with junior Travis Foust in the defensive core, Fink has fit in well for the Tigers this season.
“He’s got a great background as a goalkeeper,” Novacek said. “He looks like he’s been doing it for a long time.”
Metea Valley keeper Jimmy Wyma was also working to keep the lead at just one goal and he saved a Petprachan shot 18 minutes before halftime. Despite Plainfield North’s three-goal effort, Wyma had several strong moments in the Mustangs goal.
“He played fantastic,” Robinson said. “He’s filling in for (Tim Howard) right now. Today, I thought (Wyma) did really well. He couldn’t have saved any of the goals. He’s doing what he needs to do as a goalkeeper.”
Nate Donovan fed Metea Valley’s lightning quick forward Chris Freeman nine minutes before halftime – and Freeman scored – but the play was ruled offside.
Three minutes into the second half, Freeman showed his skill bending a soccer ball when he took a free kick 30 yards from goal. Freeman put the ball around the Tigers wall and into the net to tie the score.
The 10 minutes after Freeman’s goal were critical, and the chances literally fell to both teams. First Jake Celinski fed Freeman with a right-to-left pass that Freeman shot over the bar.
Then Logan Wright force a save from Wyma and Austin Collier’s follow-up shot was blocked by Brandon Espino for a corner kick. This time, the Tigers played a long cross directly from the corner kick and Petprachan’s cross was met solidly by an onrushing Austin Hansen to put the hosts ahead 2-1.
“One of the things I preach to them is that any time you get into the box, whether it’s off a long kick, a corner kick or a throw-in,” O’Hara said, “it’s a matter of who wants it more. Yes there’s timing and there’s body positioning. But 80 percent of it is ‘who wants that ball more?’ On our second goal, Austin Hansen came flying in. He was on a mission, there was no question about it.”
The final critical moment in the 10-minute sequence came when Freeman steamed in on goal and Fink made a one-on-one save.
“I told the kids at halftime that the second goal was the most important goal,” O’Hara said. “They scored it and we could have put our heads down and said that they’d come back and were going to go ahead and win this game or we could fight back – and we fought back.”
Fink’s save against Freeman was a key one-on-one moment in the match.
“That changes the whole complex of the game,” O’Hara said. “If that ball goes in, now it’s 2-2 and now the momentum’s back in their direction.”
Certainly the players on the field were aware of the importance of those minutes in the match.
“We had to keep our heads,” Novacek said. “We had to keep coming out with them and not getting down off that one goal.”
The chances began to tip Plainfield North’s way in the final 20 minutes of play and Wright completed the scoring when he raced to collect a ball on the left wing and then chipped over an advancing Wyma.
With nine wins, Plainfield North has set its school record for victories in a season – and there is still half a season to play. The team’s first chance to reach double-digit wins for the first time in program history comes Wednesday and a 4:30 p.m. contest at Oswego.
“We’ve never had nine wins before, and it’s awesome for us,” Novacek said. “We’re going to keep going as a team.”
Metea Valley fell to 4-4-3 and has not had the same result in back-to-back matches this season. The Mustangs can continue that trend if they win or tie with Larkin – their next opponent – in a 6 p.m. road match on Thursday.
“I thought we played well,” Robinson said. “It’s two games in a row where we haven’t gotten a win out of what I felt was really quality soccer, which is unfortunate. I think as a coaching staff, we’re being a little more positive. I think, early in the year, we were a little frustrated with the quality of soccer we were playing. We’re playing a bit of quality soccer, and that will eventually pay off.”
Key after Monday’s match is the fact that the Mustangs will have back-to-back practices for the first time in around one month.
“We need to go back and do some training,” Robinson said. “We’ve done a lot of regenerating sessions and recovery sessions, rather than actually going and doing some coaching and fixing some of the things we need to fix. But we’re growing.”
Plainfield North got a solid short-term effort from Manny Bofah, a senior forward whose minutes have been impacting so far this season.
“The best thing he did was his hustle today,” O’Hara said “He might be out there only two minutes or it might be five or maybe it’s 15 minutes. But I want him to just be non-stop. I talked to all the forwards before the game and told them they were the engine for us. I told them that if they pressured and forced turnovers, it makes everything so much easier for us.”
Teams like to talk about strength up their “spine” – and Metea Valley’s three captains play in that spine. Nate Donovan is a central defender, Dakota Rowsey plays in central midfield and Freeman is a striker.
“(Rowsey) being a junior and the others being seniors, they’ve been with us since they were freshmen,” Robinson said. “They’re fantastic and they’re really stepping up and doing some wonderful things. We’ve asked a lot out of them, but you see them stepping up. (Rowsey) had a fantastic game today and (Freeman) can continue to grow and (Donovan’s) been great at the back. They’re providing leadership for a pretty young group.”