Aided by the absence of five starters of the opposition, the North American College Martyrs punched its ticket to the Clericus Cup Finals with a commanding 2-0 victory over Guanelliani. Running its playoff goal differential to 5-0, the Martyrs are left wondering how good it could be. The answer, of course, will come in its annual playoff tussle with two-time champion Redemptoris Mater. This Saturday, however, was characterized by an incomplete, puzzling dominance: controlling tempo and chances but failing to capitalize fully, as evidenced by its one goal scored on twenty-three shots. The edge remains but the results continue to attest to a level of play previously unthinkable for the American squad.
Lining up opposite to players with obvious athletic limitations, the Americans became quickly aware that the Semifinal contest was the theirs for the taking. Microcosmic of a day both fulfilling and frustrating, the American chances began in the second minute with a free kick from David Santos ’12 (Newark). As Santos sent the ball long and into the goalie box, John Gibson ’13 (Milwaukee) appeared free from a shorter defender and seemed ready to offer an early test to the Guanelliani keeper. The ball, however, thought otherwise, gliding just above Gibson’s head and out of bounds.
While short-handed, Guanelliani was not without skill, as evidenced in the 14th minute. Receiving the ball at the top right corner of the Martyrs goalie box, a Guanelliani striker attacked left, easily moving past a tackle attempt by Santos. Having the area of space necessary, he ripped the ball left-footed towards the low, right corner of the goal. Daniel Gallagher ’13 (Pittsburgh) continued his fine play, however, lunging to poke the shot away and diving to gather it in before any damage could occur. No damage, in fact, was destined to occur at any point during the game, as this exchange was the only true chance for the Group B champions.
Accustomed to receiving only one or two true chances a game, veteran forward Deacon Daniel O’Mullane ’10 (Patterson) was in unfamiliar territory. His first opportunity occurred in the 19th minute. After a beautiful through-ball from Jeff Eirvin ’12 (Portland in Oregon), O’Mullane’s well-timed run positioned him with the ball behind the defense in the middle of the goalie box. Moving forward then backward, the Guanelliani goalie, however, did just enough to confuse O’Mullane and collected the side-footed shot, averting disaster at least momentarily.
Five minutes later O’Mullane found himself with another opportunity. Intercepting a pass in the 24th minute, the striker touched the ball to fellow forward Deacon James Morrison ’10 (Mobile), beginning a give-and-go that ended with the ball on O’Mullane’s foot behind the defense. Just as he struck his shot, however, a defender poked his foot in to pop the ball up and into the goalie’s hands.
In the 29th minute, the breakthrough would finally come. Taking the ball on his side of the field, Santos looked up the field for a pass, spotting Nick Nelson ’13 (Duluth) and delivering it to the first-year player in stride. From the right wing, Nelson sent a low cross into the box, finding the apparently never marked O’Mullane. Stepping to the right and past the confused goalie, O’Mullane tapped in the well-executed goal, giving the Martyrs its long-sought 1-0 advantage.
Not a minute passed before yet another breakaway chance was forced. This time Gibson forced loose a ball from Guanelliani’s back line and found room to run. With the defense recovering and the goalie anticipating, Gibson’s shot went well high and brought the match to halftime.
The action continued in the Martyrs favor following the intermission. In the 32nd minute, Father James Adams ’09 (Kalamazoo) forced a turnover and fed Morrison with a nice slip pass in the box. As the defense and goalie converged, Morrison’s attempt bounced off a defender’s foot and away from the keeper. Rolling nearest to a Guanelliani defender, the ball seemed destined to be booted out of bounds. Reacting quickly to an onrushing Nelson, the defender attempted to put it out of play near the goal. The ball instead found the back of the net. The own goal made the score 2-0 and eliminated any hope of a comeback.
The remainder of the second half resembled much of the action that preceded it: possession and opportunities with no conversions. O’Mullane, Morrison, and Gibson each had chances that were scuttled by a poor touch, a good save, a crossbar, or the absence of a stronger gravitational pull. Whatever the true reason, the match ended with a dominant 2-0 victory and should keep the squad focused on the task ahead of it. In Redemptoris Mater, the Martyrs find an opponent who has escorted the team from the playoffs each year: the 2007 quarterfinals, the 2008 semifinals, and last year’s finals. The upward trend, though, is obvious, something the Martyrs hope will continue with a breakthrough Saturday, May 29th. Action on the pitch starts at 11 am, but with a Booster Club tailgate to precede, the fans will start much earlier.