Girls soccer falls to SL in league semifinal
Shoot early and shoot often. That’s the slogan that Northwestern girls soccer coach Kelly Bleam would like her players to adopt, but instead, they’ve taken a more passive approach to the game which has made it difficult to score. Against Southern Lehigh in the Colonial League semifinals, the lack of scoring led to a 1-0 loss for the Tigers.
Southern Lehigh was able to get just sporadic offensive challenges throughout the game, but found one opportunity that paid off when freshman Kaya Mobley was able to get to a loose ball and put it through to sophomore Kristen Cocozza, who beat a defender and got a shot off to the corner of the net past goalie McKenna Amey.
The goal came just under 15 minutes into the second half of the game and was just the fourth shot on goal of the game for the Spartans.
Through most of the game, Northwestern was able to control the tempo with the Lady Spartans (12-6-1) only occasionally getting any sort of sustained offensive challenge. What the Spartans were able to do was finish on a big opportunity in the second half for the game’s only goal.
“Southern Lehigh is a great team and they played very well and they have quite a bit of talent,” said Bleam. “I’m really proud of the way we played tonight and I’m really proud of the way they defended all over the field. It’s unfortunate that we gave up that one opportunity, and to their credit, they were able to finish it.”
The lack of taking early shots this season has plagued Northwestern, but it appeared like the Tigers may have figured out the secret to scoring when they posted 22 goals in their last three games. They had opened the season with 17 goals in their first two games and also had an eight-goal outburst against Pen Argyl during the regular season. In their other six league games, Northwestern scored just 12 goals combined.
“I feel like it’s been the story of our season,” said Bleam. “We possess the ball well. We control the tempo pretty well and we defend very well, but we’re not taking shots. We can’t score if we don’t take them. We’ve struggled with finishing the entire season.”
Northwestern (15-3-1) held a 3-2 advantage in shots on goal in the first half, but was able to get just one shot in the final 40 minutes of the game. The Tigers did get some open looks, but fired a couple of shots just over the crossbar, including one on a free-kick in the first half that barely cleared the bar before landing harmlessly out of play.
“I don’t know if they lack confidence,” said Bleam. “We work on opportunities to shoot early in practice. We work on through balls and finishing through balls.
“I feel like we work on it all the time and then we get to the game and then we’re hesitant to take that shot,” Bleam said. “Maybe they’re so unselfish that they just want to keep giving the ball to someone else. I’m not really sure.”
Northwestern came in as the top seed in the tournament, but neither of the top two teams survived the semifinals. Number-two Saucon Valley lost a 2-1 game to third seeded Palisades, leaving the Pirates and the Spartans to battle for the league title.
Both semifinal games were rematches of regular season games that went into overtime, but had different outcomes.
Saucon Valley downed the Lady Pirates 1-0 in double overtime two weeks ago, but got revenge in the semifinal. Northwestern and Southern Lehigh played an overtime game exactly one month earlier with the Tigers getting a 2-1 win.
Combining Northwestern’s loss with the Palisades win might wind up costing the Tigers the top spot in districts. Either way, Bleam believes that her team will regroup well and make a run at a district tournament.
“Districts are a whole new tournament and it doesn’t start until next week, so we’ll take a couple of days off and then little by little get back into it,” she said. “There’s still time for us to improve, so we’ll see what happens.”