New style helps boys soccer surge
Northwestern head coach Nate Hunsicker admits he was a bit stubborn about changing things up schematically. But the move he made may have saved the Tigers’ season.
After playing in the Hamburg tournament back on September 7, Hunsicker veered away from the Tigers’ traditional 4-5-1 alignment. Since then, Northwestern (11-3-2 overall, 9-2-1 in Colonial League) has lost just one of its last 10 games.
The defense has pitched seven shutouts since the switch. And Saturday’s 7-0 romp over Catasauqua was the latest in that string of shutouts, its sixth consecutive scoreless showing.
“Defensively we’ve come a long way since the beginning of the year,” Hunsicker said. “We switched some people in some different places. We even switched formations for the first time in about six years. We went from a 4-5-1 to a 3-5-2 since the Hamburg tournament. We’ve been rolling with that. I feel every day it is looking better and better.”
Hunsicker pointed out key victories during that stretch that included a 5-0 win over Moravian, which is a staggering 9-1 in Colonial League play. The Tigers also shut out Notre Dame (Green Pond) 3-0 along the way, another team poised to make the Colonial League playoffs.
Monday’s 8-1 win over Northern Lehigh was the first goal the Tiger defense has given up since a 1-1 tie against Faith Christian Academy back on Sept. 13.
“A lot of these kids are just savvy soccer players,” Hunsicker said. “They know what to do. They know what is expected of them. A lot of these kids can play pretty much anywhere on the field. For some of them, it was tough because we switched one kid from offense to defense, and one kid from defense to offense. It was a quick learning curve.”
Offensively, the Tigers got a pleasant surprise from freshman striker Josh Zellner. After being called up from JV earlier in the season, Zellner recorded a hat strike in the Tigers’ win over Catty.
His first goal came early in the game on a corner kick from junior Jeff Garcia. Zellner sought the ball out of the air and headed it into the back of the net for a quick 1-0 lead with 31:19 to play in the half.
“I made a near post run and I saw a lane,” Zellner said. “Jeff played that great ball in and I just put a head on it, and it went in.
“I’m definitely gaining confidence every time I play. I love it out there. It’s a lot of fun. I just hope to keep it going.”
After Ryan Baker’s goal made it 2-0 with just under seven minutes to play until halftime, Zellner found the back of the net once again just 44 seconds later.
“He actually started the year on JV and was averaging about three or four goals a game,” Hunsicker said. “When we hit part of our offensive woes, we gave him the full-time nod up to varsity. He only had two goals coming into today.”
The offense came out of the intermission looking even stronger than the first 40 minutes. Colin Coffield’s shot redirected off a Rough Rider defender and into net for a goal in the opening four minutes of play.
Not even two minutes later, Baker set up Zellner for his third of the game and a quick 5-0 Tiger advantage.
“Overall I think the offense looked really sharp,” Hunsicker said. “In the first half I thought we looked a little bit sluggish. I feel like a lot of times we play down to the level of our competition, and we have to kick that habit.”
Junior forward Seth Brady and senior Zachary Rosamalia added goals to close out the Tigers’ scoring. Rosamalia actually started in goal for the Tigers in the first half, and is a key piece in that stingy defense that Hunsicker and the Tigers know will be their key moving forward.
“Our defensive is incredible,” Zellner said. “We have a lot of seniors that are excellent.”
Northwestern closes its regular season with games against Freedom (on Saturday) and Notre Dame (on Monday).