With the temperature dipping into the 30s, and a driving, frigid rain pouring down on the pitch at Nugent Stadium, it was far from an ideal night for soccer. October 15 proved to be a night to remember, though, as the hometown Garnets finally defeated their tormentors, the Byram Hills Bobcats.
Recent history or inclement weather mattered not in the end, as Rye senior captain Juan Chang delivered the game-winner five minutes into overtime, giving the Garnets (6-3-4) a stunning 1-0 win. The cold, wet boys’ soccer team – looking more like frozen popsicles than players – and their coaches celebrated joyously, jumping up and down as the diehard fans still in attendance cheered along. It was a moment best described by junior Buck Reynolds as “pandemonium”.
“That was indescribable,” said Chang. “We’ve lost to this team all four years I’ve been here – they were the one team left I wanted to beat. I got the ball in an open space and there was no other option but to shoot it.”
Chang’s goal was breathtaking, concluding as it did years of hard work – not to mention years of frustration. He received a pass from junior midfielder Arber Xhema 30 yards away from the goal and unleashed a soaring blast.
“What we witnessed was Juan’s signature strike – a 30-yard cracker that beat one of the best goalkeepers in the State,” said head coach Jared Small. “Just like last year, when he beat MLK goalkeeper Malik Faye with that laser, Juan stepped up.”
Chang’s highlight-reel score was indeed the showstopper, but it was the Rye defense that put the Garnets in position to win. Senior Tim Lonergan put in another superlative performance. Time and again the co-captain stifled the vaunted Byram attack, whether working with other defenders or isolated one-on-one. Lonergan sacrificed his body on one particular play 13 minutes into the contest, crashing into the goalpost to save a ball with senior keeper Mike Linehan out of position.
“I just hope everyone appreciates what he does for the team,” said Small. “He was sensational in shutting down All-Region striker Greg Shaheen. Tim learned from guys like Matt O’Neill and Eddie Walter who did the same with former Byram All-American Will Ogden. But what made today different was that the rest of our defense was also sensational and didn’t allow a different Byram player to become the spoiler.”
Linehan made seven saves in the shutout, including a double-save sequence in the first half that his coach referred to as “absolutely sublime”. The initial stop was a hockey-style kick on a breakaway. It was followed on the ensuing corner kick by parrying a header over the bar.
Linehan also made up for a mistake that could have had a devastating result. He failed to control a ball that was rolling out of bounds midway through the second half, which resulted in a Bobcat corner kick, but he snuffed out the threat by snagging the kick out of mid-air.
Juniors Luis DelPezo and Chris Livingston, and sophomore Ian Robinson, also proved invaluable in the Garnets’ win, but Small saved high praise for midfielder Reynolds, the blonde bomber.
“No amount of praise can reflect the contributions he made to our win,” said the coach. “He worked relentlessly on the outside of the midfield and helped generate our attack and thwart Byram’s all night long.”
Only two league games remain on Rye’s (2-1-1 in the league) schedule, including a tilt with Harrison October 21.
“We came into tonight’s match saying this was the quarterfinals of our League tournament,” said Small. “The boys really grasped this line of thinking. Essentially, we were three wins away from a league championship. A single loss and we would lose control of our own destiny. So, Harrison is basically the semifinals. Our sole focus will be on playing the creative, spirited brand of football we played this evening. If we can do this and win, we put ourselves in the de facto League championship match at Port Chester October 26.”