PITTSBURGH — While the WPIAL and its member schools continue to navigate the perils of a global health crisis with two weeks left in the regular season, Seton LaSalle junior midfielder Dan Myers proved to the Bentworth boys’ soccer team his mastery of social distancing.
A pair of second half golazos by Myers took away the breath of the intimate crowd, and took it out of the hard-working Bearcats (5-6, 5-7), at Seton LaSalle Catholic High School’s Merrick Athletic Field Thursday night, where the patient Rebels (8-0, 8-1) prevailed 4-0 to take command of the playoff race in Section 4 of Class A.
On this crisp fall evening, a goal-less first half that was anything but crisp for either side did not deter the collective spirit of the hosts, who scattered their late outburst over an 18:39 span to qualify for their 16th consecutive WPIAL postseason.
“This place means a lot to me. It’s very near and dear to my heart as an alumni,” head coach Nick Balzer, of the Seton LaSalle Class of ’07, said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without this program, and I want to give that to the kids so they can experience that as well. The coaching staff are all alumni, and the passion for this place is something we’ve wanted to reflect to these guys. Good things happen when you start doing things that you care about…and we love watching them have fun.”
“Obviously, we’ve got a lot of club players coming in, but this is 1-A soccer, and it’s all about athleticism, and then it all comes down to coaching,” Myers said of the program’s remarkable consistency. “We’ve got five different characters here, and I love them all. I don’t think I’ve been coached by a better group. They’re the most personable people I’ve been coached by. It comes down to a mentality they bring, and it just trickles down to the rest of us.”
They led 2-nil in the 59th minute, when an ill-fated clearing attempt by the Bentworth back line came to Myers, centrally positioned and well over 30 yards from goal. He settled it down in space and blasted a rising shot well beyond the reach of sophomore keeper Landen Urcho.
ED THOMPSON PHOTO GALLERY
Just for good measure, Myers also went for goal from roughly 40 yards away in the 66th minute. His free kick from the right side, in front of the Seton LaSalle bench, was so well struck that all Urcho could do was stand still and watch it rainbow into the bottom left corner of the net.
“It’s just positioning. First, my team is going in there and winning the balls. They’re doing a lot of the hard work, and it’s just a matter of going down there and putting one in the back of the net,” said Myers.
“That’s his third goal this season from 30 out. He’s got three his whole career, so he hasn’t scored anything tight and easy,” Balzer laughed.
“We play a game of power and finesse almost nightly. It’s gotten competitive within our team, and guys have been taking cracks from 25, 30 yards out. It’s just muscle memory sometimes, and when Dan’s up in that game of power and finesse, he’s usually the first one picked.”
The Rebels’ other goal from the run of play occurred on the 54-minute mark, courtesy of senior co-captain TJ Cherry. Cameron Colwell built up speed down the left wing and led a ball down the middle for the All-WPIAL midfielder, who had little trouble drilling it past Urcho to double the Seton-LaSalle advantage.
Cherry would leave the match under his own power a short time later after aggravating a previous lower-body injury. However, his unofficial prognosis after the game was positive.
He helped Seton LaSalle tilt the pitch toward the end of a first half that saw both teams struggle for quality chances. Bentworth, which narrowly fell, 2-1, in their previous meeting, Sept. 19 in Ellsworth, stood its ground in the defensive third, anchored by junior Colton Hustava and senior Trevor Richardson, and it appeared content to play a counterattacking game while Urcho kept busy.
Sophomore midfielder Julian Hays and freshman Ryan Colbert worked diligently at both ends to keep the Rebels honest.
“Bentworth’s a good team, and we know that. We’ve had battles with them where I don’t even have to look at the film, I remember it so well. They’re well-coached, they’re well-structured and they play a system where, you just have to be patient,” said Balzer. “The first half was a tremendous battle, and I think the second half was as well. We just capitalized on four opportunities. At halftime we made some adjustments.
“They weren’t anything major, but the main thing was to just keep going.”
The Rebels did just that from the first touch after the break, using a set piece to break on top. A corner kick from the far side found an open Reno Butelli right in front of goal, and the senior midfielder used his upper body to redirect it between Urcho and his neighboring defender.
Going forward, Seton LaSalle would dominate possession as Cherry and Myers provided breathing room.
“Tonight, I’ve got to hand it to the back line. And technically, I’m a part of that, but Bobby [Bootay], [Jack] Billick, [James] Farnan, ‘Sway’…they’re fantastic, [goalkeeper] Nick Cherry, too.” said Myers. “I wouldn’t be able to possess out of the back, with the other midfielders, if not for them. They lock it down, they communicate to me and it flows perfectly.”
“We have a system where we play out of the back, and it wears you down,” Balzer explained. “The more you get the other team to run and chase, the more space that’s going to open up, and that was evidenced by the goals we scored.”
While Bentworth tries to hold off Beth-Center for the final spot out of their grouping, Seton LaSalle finds itself on the verge of an incredible eighth straight sectional title. The Rebels earned their fifth clean sheet in a row and have averaged 5.40 goals per game during that stretch.
They’ll try to continue flexing that defensive muscle Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m. EDT, when they welcome Section 4 rival California, against which they posted the first of those shutouts Sept. 28.
The Bearcats return home for their final two scheduled matches of the truncated 2020 regular campaign, as they first entertain Washington High in a non-section contest at 7:00 p.m. EDT Monday night.