Springdale soccer leans on defense as playoffs approach

Monday, October 15, 2018 | 11:24 PM

Springdale started slowly in its Section 1-A boys soccer finale over the weekend, a not-uncommon occurrence and one rendered moot by a dominant second half in a 4-0 victory over Vincentian.

What made the game unique was the location: the artificial surface at Valley’s Memorial Stadium. And once the Dynamos got their feet underneath them, they started rolling.

If Springdale is playing on turf, it means the playoffs are approaching. The Dynamos practice frequently at Valley during the postseason. After a run to the WPIAL championship game last season, they’re ready to get things started again.

“We want to have that experience again,” senior goalkeeper Mike Zolnierczyk said. “I feel like with the core group we have, we can make a good run.”

Even after losing seven senior starters from last season’s team, Springdale (11-2-1, 10-1-1) finds itself in a similar position to last year as the second-place team from its section.

The four starters who returned — Zolnierczyk and juniors Michael Krason, Michael Mitchell and Matt Taliani — hope to use their experience to guide the newcomers once the postseason begins.

“With the guys coming back from last year, I think they control and inspire the rest of the team,” coach Cesareo Sanchez said. “The juniors and sophomores that experienced going to the WPIAL final and going to the state playoffs, I think they’re excited, I think they’re ready and I think they’re looking forward to play this time.”

Outside of a three-day stretch in late September, not much slowed Springdale during the regular season. The Dynamos allowed just one goal in a 7-0-1 start to the regular season. Then came a narrow 1-0 defeat to Avonworth, the team that won the section title, followed by a 2-0 loss to Highlands.

Krason, a key scorer for Springdale, missed the two losses with an injury, and Mitchell and Zolnierczyk left the Highlands game early with injuries of their own. And the Dynamos responded to the losses by winning the next four games by a combined 19-0 margin heading into Monday’s game at Neshannock.

“Honestly, I think we were getting a little too content,” Mitchell said. “I think that loss to Avonworth really woke us up. We saw that we can lose games, and I’m glad we got that loss out of the way earlier in the season, before it’s too late. It’s never good to lose, but I’m glad we got it out of the way there.”

The difference in personnel led Springdale to play a more defensive style this season: The Dynamos allowed just five goals in their first 14 games, with 10 shutouts. Taliani is the team’s defensive stopper and Zolnierczyk a standout in net.

Mitchell and Ephraim Duku stepped up for the offense after the graduation of scoring stalwarts Jared Demore and Nick Taliani.

“Right now, I think we’re peaking at the right time,” Zolnierczyk said. “(Saturday), we beat Vincentian, 4-0, on the turf. It took us the first half to kind of get acclimated again, but that’s what we’re used to. We like the turf fields, got used to it last year playing and we’re peaking on the right time.”

Springdale rode an underdog mentality in last year’s playoffs, turning a No. 7 seed from the WPIAL committee into a deep postseason run. Whether they get a similar seed this season won’t be determined until the committee meets Wednesday, but the Dynamos likely won’t sneak up on anyone.

“I think last year, we came out of nowhere,” Mitchell said. “I’m sure a lot of teams would say that as well. This year, I don’t think it will be as big of a surprise now that we know we’ve got some solid kids coming up, but I still think we can make that run as an underdog last year. We can use that as more of a motivation to inspire the guys that weren’t there last year.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Doug at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter .


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