Aaron Povlow and the Father Judge soccer team had been waiting 10 long, brutal months for this game, so the goal going in was pretty cut and dry.
“It was a revenge game,” Povlow said matter-of-factly. “Revenge … that’s what we needed.”
Povlow was speaking in the moments following Father Judge’s pretty convincing 3-2 victory at home Wednesday night against the two-time reigning league champs La Salle. It was the Explorers who put a halt to Judge’s season a year ago, ending a Crusader Cinderella run with a convincing 3-0 win in the Catholic League title tilt.
Povlow, a junior on last year’s team, remembers the devastation all too well. The Crusaders had improbably marched to the title game despite being without their two best players, Steve Smeck and Justin Hiltwine, for the entire season. As other players stepped up into unexpected leadership positions and saw their roles increase, the team developed a never-say-die, can’t lose attitude that has carried into the 2013 season.
The final score on Wednesday read 3-2, but Judge dominated the game for the first 70 minutes, using a relentless defense to smother the La Salle attack. Pair that with the opportunistic Crusaders taking advantage of early chances in front of the goal, and the Explorers never really had a shot, despite making things a tad bit interesting with two goals in the final 12 minutes.
If there was any doubt left that the undefeated Crusaders (9-0) are the top soccer team in the city, they quickly washed it away by issuing a punishing defeat to a team that does not lose often.
“We were so pumped for this game throughout the whole week,” said Povlow, who scored the second of Judge’s three goals off a rebound stemming from a corner kick with just under 20 minutes to go in the first half. “We really just wanted to come out confident and play our game.”
The intensity was certainly in the air as arguably the top two teams in the Catholic League squared off under the lights. Play was chippy on both sides, and the Judge sideline was perturbed that La Salle’s defense put star midfielder Joey Hansen on his back one time too many. With 28:48 left to go in the game and Judge holding a commanding 3-0 lead, head coach John Dunlop was issued a red card and ejected from the game following a confrontation with one of the referees. Dunlop’s removal from the field occurred following a scrum between a La Salle player and Judge junior forward Abrahem Krama (who scored Judge’s first goal less than nine minutes in) behind the Explorer goal.
“It’s our rival game, one you look at on the schedule,” Dunlop said following the win. “At some point, you just have to fight for your players.”
There was certainly no love lost between the two teams following the game, shaking hands afterward, knowing it’s likely they could meet again in the playoffs later in the year.
Judge controlled the tempo throughout, never allowing any semblance of possession flow for the Explorers until late in the game. With senior captains Hansen and Ryan Nork, La Salle University signees and two of the top players in the league, anchoring the Crusader midfield and keeping the ball constantly moving, more opportunities were afforded to other players like Krama, Povlow and senior midfielder Geoff Degnan, who scored what turned out to be the game-deciding goal on a pretty, floating cross in the fifth minute of the second half. That fact is not lost on Judge’s other attacking players.
“We have so many threats,” said Povlow, who was a bulldog on the left wing before exiting the game with a mild calf injury midway through the second half. “If we’re passing the ball well to each other, then nobody is beating us. Those two (Nork and Hansen) control the middle, and I think the rest of the guys are more confident in themselves than ever.”
Despite the two late goals, a large amount of the credit should be given to the Judge back line, which allows very few goals (just four total in nine games), in turn allowing the offense to apply pressure early on. Judge’s defensive unit is anchored by senior defender and captain Joey Malvestuto, who is flanked by seniors David Rodriquez and Sam Carancia, as well as junior Mama Bah, who had a very strong game against La Salle. Senior goalie Danny Sulpizio, who is as entertaining as he is skillful between the posts, has become a shutout machine with six.
“They’re really connected together in the back,” Povlow said. “They’re just really strong back there, and they like each other. They just click.”
“They know they don’t get the press they deserve, and that’s fine, but they take a lot of pride in themselves as a unit,” he said. “They know that if they can put up a one or zero on the scoreboard, then our guys will get at least two goals for them. And they just like each other. My whole team likes each other. They’re a good group to work with, so this is a credit to them.”
Judge is extremely deep and experienced across the board. For the most part, many of these players already learned how to jell as a unit last year, so the results now seem like clockwork. A group that knows how to win in this league playing with this much confidence can be a nightmare for opponents, especially because the Crusaders make so few mistakes, another sign of their grizzled veteran status.
“Nork and Hansen, they’re the engine, but everyone else on this team knows their role,” Dunlop said. “We’re hitting our stride at the right time. So far everyone is fitting in, and it’s working. With our experience and senior leadership, they made sure the preparation for this game was perfect. We’re senior-oriented, we’re smart and we’re experienced, and we wanted to show that.”
Now that they’ve gotten the La Salle monkey off their backs, all that’s left for the Crusaders to do is capture the Catholic League championship, something that has eluded them in going 0-3 in title games the past three years.
Judge will be ready for the playoffs when the time comes, but there’s still a whole lot of season left. For now though, Povlow said the Crusaders will have no trouble enjoying this victory.
“It’s an awesome, awesome feeling … the best feeling,” he said. “We just want to keep playing hard and playing our game. I think last year got us ready for the task at hand this year. A lot of starters on that team are back this year. We connected last year, and now we’re even better.”