Good Defense Not Enough for Boys' Soccer

Published in the October 24, 2007 issue of Stow Independent

By Jordana Bieze Foster

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Although the Nashoba Regional boys soccer team's playoff hopes were dashed on Monday night in a 2-1 loss at Marlboro, the near-upset of the league-leading Panthers showed how far the Chieftains have come this season.

Needing to win their last three games to qualify for post-season play, just about the last team the Nashoba players wanted to face off against was Marlboro, the team that embarrassed them 7-0 in their last meeting on Sept. 29. But this time around, the Chieftains kept the game close, refusing to panic even after a Panther goal merely a minute into the game had them playing from behind.

Layne Sadler of Stow scored on a penalty kick at 16:49 in the first half, and a new defensive strategy featuring Michael Murphy and Stow's Brian Shaughnessy as co-sweepers in front of standout keeper DJ Siewierski of Stow (18 saves) held the Panthers in check for most of the game. A second Marlboro goal 10 minutes into the second half was one the Chieftains ultimately were unable to answer, but head coach Don Freda was proud of his team's efforts.

“Our guys played a great game,” Freda said. “It was just fun watching them out there. If you have to lose, that's the way you want to do it.”

With the loss, Nashoba's overall record fell to 5-9-2; Marlboro hit double digits in the win column with a record of 10-3-2 for the season.

That the Chieftains' season had come down to the last three games was something of a surprise, given that the team returned seven starters from last year's team and included a promising group of freshmen. But scoring has been a problem all season, and as the saying goes, a team can't win if it can't score.

“Scoring goals has been a tough thing for us to do,” Freda said. “We've been shut out eight times, and that's reflected in our record.”

Travis Johnson of Stow has been the team's leading scorer, with seven goals and three assists on the season. Other players have made contributions, but not often enough to effectively distract opponents' defenses from keying on Johnson, which in turn puts pressure on Siewierski and an injury-depleted Chieftains' defense.

“It's been crazy,” said Siewierski, who has made 238 saves this season alone and had a goals-against average of 1.69 going into the Marlboro game. “It's been pretty much up to me sometimes, but I do the best I can out there.”

The team did find itself on the positive end of a shutout twice in recent weeks, with a 1-0 victory over Algonquin on Oct. 13 and a 4-0 decision over Doherty on Oct. 16. Although the Chieftains previously hadn't won since Sept. 25, the October victories were the team's first against opponents with winning records: Algonquin, which won the state title in 2004 and 2005 and was runner-up last season, was 7-1-2 and atop the Mid-Wach A league, while perennial Inter-High league power Doherty was 7-3-2.

“Against Algonquin in particular, it was a combination of good defensive play and a little luck,” Freda said. “But those two wins were big for us. Coming off four losses and a tie, we finally felt like we were headed in the right direction.”

In the Algonquin game, Siewierski made an impressive 31 saves to shut out the Tomahawks, and Johnson scored the lone goal with less than 10 minutes to play. Sadler, Murphy, Nick Cushing, and Andre Burgess each scored against Doherty, with two assists for Johnson and nine saves for Siewierski.

The momentum of those two victories was short-lived, however, as Nashoba fell to Central Catholic 2-0 last Thursday, putting the Chieftains in the triple-must-win situation heading to Marlboro.

Nashoba will finish its season with two more away games, a 7 pm game this evening at Leominster and another 7 pm game Saturday at North Middlesex Regional.

Copyright 2008 Jordana Foster – 24 Kirkland Dr, Stow, MA – Email: – Fax: (815) 346-5239