BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – The Annville-Cleona boys’ soccer squad employs a lot of different criteria to measure its success. Near the top of the Little Dutchmen’s list are convincing victories over Elco.
On Wednesday afternoon, Annville-Cleona clobbered the Raiders 3-0, in what turned out to be a somewhat historic triumph. The margin of victory was the largest the Little Dutchmen had ever enjoyed over their long-time arch-nemesis.
Annville-Cleona netted all three of its goals in a 28-minute span of the first half, and all three were delivered in somewhat similar fashion. Employing a quick counter-attack style of play, the Little Dutchmen scored all of their goals on ‘fast breaks’, and off first touches.
With two goals and an assist, freshman forward Matt Light inflicted most of the damage for Annville-Cleona.
The Little Dutchmen, who had defeated Elco 2-1 earlier in the season at Myerstown, improved to 9-2-1 overall and 5-2-1 in Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. Annville-Cleona, which has all but sewn up a District Three Class AA playoff berth, is very much in the hunt for a section crown.
The same can not be said for Elco, the perennial measuring stick for boys’ soccer locally. At 4-7 on the year and 3-5 in the section, the Raiders are in danger of missing out on the postseason.
“There were a lot of first today,” said veteran Little Dutchmen boss Ray Kreiser through his Cheshire Cat grin. “We’ve never beaten Elco twice in a season. We never scored three goals against them. We never shut them out.
“We’re happy,” continued Kreiser. “The kids played well. Maybe I should play the lottery. Something aligned for us.”
“Any county team we play, it’s a rivalry,” said Elco’s first-year head coach, Kirk Keppley. “We struggled last year. We struggled this year. I don’t know that the Elco name is carrying as much weight as it once did.
“We’re really going to have to pull off a miracle to make the playoffs,” Keppley continued. “We’ve got seven games left and we’re going to have to be at least .500. That only leaves two mistakes. The hope is always there.”
The Little Dutchmen didn’t generate a ton of scoring chances, but the ones they did create they cashed in on. In fact, Annville-Cleona scored goals on its first three shots of the game.
Seven minutes into the match, Light ran on to a lead pass from Braden Elliott. The Raider goalie had the first crack at it, but whiffed on his kick attempt, and Light was there to touch it home.
“What we looked to do, we knew Elco would be pressing a little bit,” said Kreiser. “We told our guys, ‘when they make a mistake, jump on them’. We knew they’d (the Raiders) be pressing because they need wins. ‘If we get them out of position, attack.’
“We’re not an all-out attack team, but we don’t bunker down either,” added Kreiser. “Today we had five opportunities and we scored on three of them. In the second half, we just tried to do some game management. We have some guys who are banged up. They’ve (the Raiders) had trouble scoring all year. If they were going to score on us, they were going to have to work for them.”
“On the first one (goal), the keeper just didn’t kick it,” said Keppley. “That happens. He was out of the box. I think he felt like he had to play it with his foot. On the second goal, they (the Little Dutchmen) played a ball over the top and it caught our keeper flat-footed. On the third goal, he thought it (the shot) was wide.
“No, there wasn’t a common theme,” Keppley added. “But I thought we were shaky in the back, which normally isn’t our situation. Mentally, we weren’t there.”
Light turned play-maker for the Little Dutchmen’s middle tally. He sent ahead Gordon Parks, who, with his first touch of his left foot, volleyed the ball over the Raider netminder’s out-stretched hand.
With 5:43 of the first half remaining, Light used his left foot to give A-C its three-goal advantage. He ran on to Samuel Soliday’s feed and tucked the ball neatly inside the left post.
“We actually had our sweeper (Josh Light) out with an injury,” Kreiser said. “I just talked to the guys and told them, ‘We can use it as an excuse and mail it in, or we can prove we’re a team.’ They (his players) took it as a challenge. We wanted to come out and do the things we do.
“Today, the boys stepped up,” continued Kreiser. “The kids knew about Josh and they were incredibly quiet during warm-ups. They rely on him quite a bit.”
“I don’t know what to say,” said Keppley. “We struggled sometimes with the ball. In the first half, we were knocking the ball around. That’s been the story all year. We haven’t been making things happen in the box. We’re trying and pressing, but I don’t know if we know how to finish. They’re (his players) just unsure. The confidence isn’t there. That’s why people get paid millions of dollars to score goals. But we can’t buy one right now.
“This was our worst section defeat,” Keppley added. “We were talking before the game about ‘any given day’, but it wasn’t a good day. They’re (the Little Dutchmen) a good team. They played well. They move off the ball well. They’re just as good as anyone in the section.”
Elco ended up out shooting Annville-Cleona 10-6, but the scoring chances that the Raiders did come up with were not of the dangerous variety. Little Dutchmen netminder Justin Ulrich logged eight saves to record the shutout.
“No, I didn’t expect this at all,” said Kreiser. “Honestly, we were trying to be a little better than last year. We lost an awful lot of talent. This group really harps on playing as a team. We don’t have any one player who’s going to step on the field and change the game. It’s ‘we’. It’s ‘us’. It’s not, ‘I’. When you have a team playing together they’re tough to beat. That’s what makes us dangerous.
“We just smile when we hear those things,” added Kreiser. “Our big goal was to get back to districts. These boys don’t know districts. It’s a whole different thing. It’s pretty much a coin flip as to who’s going to win. Our goal is: “Let’s go to the district playoffs, and whatever happens in the section happens.”
“Honestly, I did think we were a playoff team,” said Keppley. “The question coming in was could we score goals. The answer is no. We’ve been shut out more times than I’d like to admit. We’ve got to give our defense help. But all the games have been close.”