Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
As Berea-Midpark opened defense of its Southwestern Conference soccer championship, one thing stood out as the match against Lakewood played on.
These Titans are going to do it with defense.
That defense held Lakewood's scoring opportunities to a minimum and helped generate the only goal the visitors would need. The end result was a 2-0 win over the Rangers Wednesday night at First Federal Lakewood Stadium in the SWC opener for both teams.
"Our team defense eliminates a lot of threats before they reach our last option, which is our keeper," said Berea-Midpark head coach Steve Blatnica, whose team moved to 2-0 on the young season.
"Hopefully our team defense can play as well as they played tonight throughout the season," Blatnica said. "Our defense really kept us in it tonight. And the guys know it's not just the back four. It's all 11 of them on the field that are playing team defense.
"We can't rely on those four guys in the back to do it all. We have to have it from our midfielders to our strikers. You saw our strikers applying a lot of high pressure today. We need that from them," he said.
Lakewood, now 1-1, mustered just one shot on goal in the first half to the Titans' five. One of those five shots came in the 24th minute as junior forward Adam Wade stole a pass in the Ranger third and pushed it over to senior midfielder Alex Stanton.
Stanton, with one defender to beat, moved to his left and launched a 20-yarder that arched high over the defender and over the outstretched hands of Lakewood's senior keeper, Robby Fehrenbach. That gave Berea-Midpark a 1-0 lead with 16-14 remaining in the first half.
Lakewood had nearly taken the lead earlier, but the Rangers missed on a header attempt off a corner kick int he 21st minute. A shot from the right side in the 75th minute was stopped on a save by Titans sophomore keeper Dominic Baglier.
"We had a very hard time connecting more than two or three passes," admitted Lakewood head coach Adnrew Toth, whose team's scoring chances were few and far between.
"Again, that's due to their pressure and our inability to move off the ball for each other and show good angles. And we need to use the simple pass instead of those very ambitious and difficult passes, which played right into their sweet spot.
"They're very organized defensively and they're very aggressive defensively. I was really impressed with the way they played. They really pressed us and took our style of play away from us," he said.
Newcomer Cannon Dees, a senior forward, got an insurance goal for the visitors with 9:02 left in the match off an assist from senior Kevin Albrecht.
That would be all the offense the Titans would need as they turned in a defensive gem.
"We try to be aggressive, especially in certain parts of the field, Blatnica said.
"Our game plan is to definitely target certain players on the field we see. We also target our strategy as to where we want to be in high pressure, where we want to be in low pressure. Today, that worked pretty well for us.
"We weren't able to put in as many goals as we had hoped to. We had a lot of unfinished opportunities. But again this was our second game . We've got things to work on, things to improve on," he said.
On the other side of the coin, Toth felt his team wasn't ready for the challenge the two-time SWC champions would bring.
"We seemed a step slow. We didn't come with the effort, the energy or the enthusiasm that we're capable of," Toth said.
"But we have to give them credit because they took that away from us. They're very well-coached, and they play a very nice style of soccer. It seems like they play a combination of direct, but they also have the ability to possess the ball and move it side to side.
"We want to be more like them and not the way we played. Hopefully that will come when we decide to play with a little more rhythm and a little bit for each other more than we did tonight," he said.
Blatnica said Wednesday night's match was an example of how his Titans need to approach the season if they want to make it a three-peat in the expanded SWC.
"You have to take it one game at a time, especially this year,"Blatnica said. "Everybody has certain games circled on their schedule. It may be that we've been circled by several teams.
"But we're OK with that. Everyday, we know it's going to be a fight, as it should be. Every team in this league is capable of winning the whole thing, so we have to think of this as one match at a time.
"When we do that, it's not such an enormous task. It's broken down into smaller challenges," he added.
Toth, on the other hand, was optimistic that his team would improve and be a factor in the conference race. He said they look forward to getting inured players John Virag, Jack Hueter and Hehgay Ler back on the pitch, and that the team as a whole has better days ahead.
"I believe in my kids," Toth said emphatically.
"I think they're going to bounce back from this, and that might take a while because we're finding ourselves. This team has a lot of potential and a lot of talent. They just need to learn how to use it together collectively. That's what we're trying to figure out right now.
"It may take awhile, but I promise you we will get better than we played today," he concluded.
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