“We have to be better,” the Tuscarora boys soccer coach told his players Tuesday at halftime against Middletown.
That attitude carried over to players such as Andrew Delauter, who later lashed out at his teammates after some sloppy play on the back line almost led to a Knights goal.
“What are we doing? Wake up!” the senior midfielder belted out.
This from a team that held a one-goal advantage at halftime and eventually walked away with a 3-1 victory. This from a team that improved to 4-0 and has allowed just one goal all season.
“It’s been really competitive [in practice], and the bar has definitely risen over the past year, especially since I’ve been here as a freshman,” said Delauter, who gave Middletown a 2-1 lead in the 33rd minute after running onto a pass from David Diaz down the right flank and beating Middletown keeper Joncarlo Schooler with a shot inside the far post.
Knowing COVID-19’s potential for disrupting day-to-day activities, Knepper keeps a 29-member player pool for his varsity team, and only 20 make game-day rosters. That has made for the ultra-competitive atmosphere Delauter touched on.
“For positions, we’re at least three, four guys deep at some spots,” Delauter said.
Against the Knights (1-3), the Titans showed a nice collection of technical skills through the likes of David Diaz, Christian Dwimoh and Cesar Aayon. They strung together their fair share of combination passes, helping set up scoring chances for players such as Delauter, Thomas McGough, Matt Jay and Erick Rodriguez.
Rodriguez capped the scoring with a goal in the final minute of the game.
“The expectations are through the roof right now,” Knepper said.
Diaz notched assists on the Titans’ first two goals, with McGough scoring off the first in the fifth minute. Diaz, a junior, has dynamic playmaking ability, and Knepper would like him and others to focus more on keeping possession than showing off their talent.
“Where we sometimes get into trouble … is making a decision early to share the ball and wait for the dribbling moments to develop instead of dribble and then think about passing.”
Knepper came away thoroughly impressed with the hard-nosed play of Middletown, which was coming off back-to-back 4-1 losses to Thomas Johnson and Urbana. Yet, the Knights took it to the Titans in the first four minutes of the game, possessing the ball the entire time in the attacking third of the field.
The ability of players such as Matt Bedri, Ian Straits and Michael Liebendorfer to constantly pressure Tuscarora’s back line made for the strong early start.
“That’s sort of how we identify — we want to be hard-working,” Middletown coach Jeff Colsh said. “We want to reflect the community and the parents, and we ask them to work really hard, and they do.”
Middletown tied the match in the 12th minute when Ashton Smith took off on a long run down the right flank and beat Tuscarora keeper Bryant Hurley with a shot inside the near post. Schooler turned in a stellar performance, turning away several dangerous scoring chances, including a PK by Diaz. He finished with nine saves.
“They gave us absolutely everything we could handle and everything we wanted,” Knepper said.