‘So far, so good’ for Franklin Regional soccer

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Thursday, September 12, 2019 | 12:01 AM


Some of the names have changed in the rotation but the possess-the-ball style of play and heavy dose of talent remains the same at Franklin Regional.

It’s early in the season, but the Panthers’ boys soccer team is picking up right where it left off after a historic run. And they’re doing so on their own terms: keep-away soccer, a make-you-work defense and some extra scoring pop from their rising star.

More opponents are sagging on defense, an annoyance to the Panthers but no doubt a sign of respect.

“We’re a little younger and not quite as deep, but we’re doing things well,” coach Rand Hudson said. “So far, so good.”

Franklin Regional, the defending WPIAL Class 3A champion and the Tribune-Review’s No. 1-ranked team, moved to 3-0-1 with a 1-1 tie Tuesday night against No. 5 Thomas Jefferson.

While four games might be a small sample size, there is the reality that the Panthers still have one of the stingiest defensive units in the WPIAL. They had not surrendered a goal this season — two scrimmages included— until Thomas Jefferson’s Justin Finnegan connected on a direct kick in the second half Tuesday.

The Panthers have 19 shutouts in their last 26 games. They allowed just seven goals last year when they went 20-1-1 and reached the PIAA semifinals.

Sophomore sensation Anthony DiFalco has six of the team’s 12 goals, all coming in consecutive hat tricks.

“We’re playing almost identical to how we did last year,” junior defender Cole Kaforey said. “A lot of us have been playing together since we were little so we have chemistry. We know what works for us.”

DiFalco found the net three times each in wins over Gateway (5-0) and South Fayette (3-0).

“I think he’s found his comfort level,” Hudson said. “He’s dealt with pressure, the double-teams and things like that. He is a natural goal scorer.”

Hudson said the team calls a certain type of three-goal game by their go-to forward a “DiFalco hat trick.” That would include a goal scored via penalty kick, set piece and off a set play.

“It’s not quite Gordie Howe, but they like it,” Hudson said.

Howe, the NHL great, had a hockey hat trick named after him for when he scored a goal, had an assist and got into a fight in the same game.

The physicality of the Panthers lies in their junior back three of Kaforey, Luke Kimmich and Jake Sciorilli. The center-backs have been a force so far with senior Connor Hudson as the holding midfielder who can win headers, flip the field and distribute the ball.

“Cole, one-on-one, rarely makes mistakes,” Rand Hudson said. “That group back there has been really good for us.”

Another junior, Gianni Diacopoulos, has been dependable as the goalkeeper. He and last year’s netminder — Jeremy Lucas, now an assistant coach — have differing styles but both have proven effective.

“He has a long wingspan and has been able to use that to his advantage,” Rand Hudson said of Diacopoulos.

Senior Garrett Beaver and junior Blake Cooper have two goals apiece for the Panthers and freshman Colton Hudson has one.

The personnel fits the team’s style of play. While Hudson said some teams prefer to “get it and go,” that is not the case for the Panthers, who clearly have the speed and ability to play that way, but choose to be more deliberate.

“It just works for us,” Hudson said. “It’s kind of a trend. It started with Liverpool and teams like that. We depend on our back three. … We take our time and possess it.”

The Panthers also plan to be patient with their upcoming games.

“It’s a long, short season so we have to take it slowly,” Hudson said. “We don’t want to take anything for granted on our section schedule.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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