One year ago, Grand Rapids Crew Jrs (MI) won its second game of the 2011 National Championships to clinch a spot in the Under-17 Boys final game. Today, Crew Jrs were in a position to repeat history by earning an early berth to the 2012 US Youth Soccer National Championships U-18 Boys final.
Marlton Lighting Red (NJ) was coming off a day one loss and in desperate need of a victory to stay afloat in the group standings. Even with the urgent play of Marlton, Crew Jrs were able to set the tone of the game early.
Crew Jrs’ quick passing had no effect against the Marlton defense for most of the game. But in the 19th minute, Crew Jrs found an answer through some spectacular combination passing. Matthew Harkema received a pass on the top of a box and layed it off to Sean Conerty who had slipped behind the defense. Conerty finished with a beauty, playing it past the Marlton keeper to put Crew Jrs up 1-0.
Fluid passing and counter attacking led Crew Jrs to twice as many shots as New Jersey during the first half, leaving Marlton on its heels.
"I thought we played a lot better than we played yesterday, "said Grand Rapids head coach Lewis Robinson. "We came out faster and scored a brilliant goal and dictated the game a bit more in the first half. I thought we took our foot off the gas a little bit in the second half though, which we talked about not doing."
Marlton had numerous chances in the second half and caught Crew Jrs back-tracking a number of times with counter attacks. In the 50th minute, the New Jersey team got its best chance of the game on a whipped-in cross. Marlton’s Gregory Biggiani jumped up, towering over the defense, but his header went wide of the target.
Just nine minutes later Marlton again had another beautiful header opportunity as a cross found Ryan Schroy open in the box; but it too sailed wide of the goal.
"We played a strong game but were up against a very strong opponent," said Marlton head coach Shawn Ryan. "They got an early goal against us and from there it was an uphill battle. We played well, had a couple chances and just couldn’t get the ball in the net.
Crew Jrs' patience finally paid off in added time as a long ball over the top of the Marlton defense set up Nate Rose for a 1 v 1 against the keeper. Rose slotted the ball into the net making it 2-0 and secured the victory.
"They’re a good team," Robinson said. "They play very direct and have some dangerous players. In the end we showed what we have all year, that we can find a way to win games. That’s what this National Championship Series is all about— finding a way to win games— whether it is 1-0 and ugly, or five to nil and pretty."
Grand Rapids Crew Jrs will face Florida Rush Nike (FL) in the final game of the group stage. Both teams have earned a spot in the 2012 National Championship so this game will set the tone for the U-18 Boys final on Sunday.