By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — After a disheartening 1-0 loss to St. Augustine Prep on Saturday in which his Eagles gave up the winning goal in the final minute, Egg Harbor Township boys soccer coach Pete Lambert was wondering how his team would respond against a young, hungry Pleasantville team on Tuesday afternoon. For most of the match, Lambert wasn’t all that impressed with what he saw out of his club.
But a proven goal scorer like Ahmad Brock can make up for a lot of mistakes. Brock scored a pair of first-half goals — including a tally on one of the game’s five penalty kicks — and then added what proved to be the game winner late in the second half as EHT escaped with a 5-4 victory to improve to 7-1 overall and remain unbeaten in the Cape-Atlantic League East Division with a perfect 6-0 record. EHT had beaten Pleasantville 5-0 in an early meeting this season, so perhaps the Eagles thought Tuesday’s affair would be another walk in the park.
But coach Mark Eykyn’s group has continued to improve and has a pair of talented freshmen up top who can score in bunches, in Anthony Perdomo and Roberto Fernandez. EHT entered the game having allowed just three goals all season, but Perdomo and Fernandez matched that as Fernandez found the back of the net twice while Perdomo added a tally.
“If a couple balls bounce different ways and if a couple calls go different ways — we started three freshmen and three sophomores, so we’re a very young team. We’re getting better each game,” Eykyn said. “One of the big things we’ve been stressing (to Perdomo and Fernandez) is, because they are talented players, they try to take a lot on themselves. I tried to stress that to them at halftime, watching Brock and (EHT’s) other kids, they are using their wings, moving the ball and distributing as much as they are taking shots. And that’s what we need to do. Too much early in the season we were ramming everything down the middle and not using our wings out wide. They are starting to realize that when you get the ball out wide it opens up the middle of the field.”
[CLICK HERE TO VIEW A PHOTO GALLERY FROM THIS GAME]
“Our focus today was how are we going to bounce back after losing at the Prep? It was a heartbreaker in the final seconds against a good team. Coming out here against Pleasantville, we knew they were going to be better than the first time we played them. They have a lot of young talent and a good coach and they are starting to buy in. They made it really difficult for us. They were dangerous in the attack — five PKs, three for them, two for us — we haven’t had a PK all year and then five in one game,” Lambert said. “But we talked about how we can’t give the referees a reason to make that call in our box. We have to tighten some things up, but a win is a win coming off a loss. We just have to build on it and find some energy. Pleasantville is going to be a good team, so we’ll take it. They made it difficult but we have to be better, mentally preparing ourselves. We squeaked out of here today, and we’ll take it.”
EHT (7-1, 6-0 CAL East) took a 2-0 lead in the first half on a pair of goals from Brock, but Pleasantville (3-4, 2-4 CAL East) evened things up when Perdomo scored and then junior Elmer Barahona was awarded a penalty kick after making a run and colliding with Eagles keeper R.J. Matthews. Fernandez converted on the PK, but about a minute later EHT regained the lead when Brock made a run that resulted in a score. Pleasantville goalie Franklin Moreno-Mejia made the initial save but Jayden Guy corralled the rebound, dribbled left, then lofted a pretty shot that he tucked off the far right post and into the net for a 3-2 Eagles lead.
In the second half the teams traded PKs, as Fernandez tied the game at 3 before Dominik Warda gave the Eagles a 4-3 lead by converting his chance. Brock then scored off a chip into the box by Brandon Berrio to make it 5-3. Pleasantville didn’t go away, however, scoring on another PK, to shave the deficit to 5-4, but EHT’s defense held strong in the final few minutes to preserve the victory.
“It’s taught me to be a lot more patient,” Brock said of the double- and sometimes triple-marking defenses he’s seen against him this season. “Sometimes, when I was younger, I would try to force a lot of shots but it doesn’t work like that. You have to let the game come to you, take it slow, one move at a time. As I have gotten older I’ve realized I have to mature and I can’t get frustrated over all the little things. Mistakes are going to happen, so I just have to learn to have a short memory and move on to the next play.
“They played hard and they played like they wanted it today, maybe more than we did, but we woke up and played up to the quality we expect. Once we really did that, the game was in our hands.”
Eykyn said he was just as surprised as Lambert to see a game with five penalty kicks, something he said he’s never seen in his coaching career.
“I’ve never seen a game with five PKs. I mean, it was physical inside that box and both teams have the ability to score in bunches. So when the ball got into the box guys were getting knocked down,” he said.
For all Pleasantville was able to do, however, the Greyhounds didn’t have an answer for Brock, who scored nearly 30 goals last year as a junior and already has 16 goals and seven assists this year in eight games.
“Ahmad came up big and he’s been coming up big all year. Even at Prep, he was dynamic in that game and created chances for us. To come out here and bounce back after being shut out at Prep with three goals, including the game-winner there at the end, that’s the type of player he’s been for us his whole career,” Lambert said. “He knows when to step up to lead us. We put him in the back at the end to settle our defense down and not allow Pleasantville to be dangerous anymore. Hat’s off to Ahmad today, he’s relentless in the attack and whatever it takes for the team, he’s willing to do.”
Pleasantville has two more regular-season games on its schedule, Nov. 3 against Atlantic City and Nov. 10 at Holy Spirit.
“The goal moving forward is to continue to grow,” Eykyn said. “We are a really young team and I knew going into this weird season when we’d have to play Mainland and EHT — we’re not playing schools our size, obviously, so these young guys, we have to keep their heads up so that they keep progressing and don’t get frustrated. EHT beat us 5-0 the first time, so it’s good to see the growth and we’re staying positive.”
For EHT, the focus the remainder of this year is winning a championship, whatever that might mean in the new world of COVID-19.
“We want to win a championship. If it’s a sectional championship, we want to win a sectional championship, if it’s a CAL championship, we want to win that,” Brock said. “Whatever championship there is to win, we want to win it.”
What’s next: Pleasantville hosts Atlantic City on Nov. 3 at 3:30 p.m. EHT hosts Holy Spirit on Nov. 3 at 4 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays