Tight-knit Burrell boys soccer team embracing big moments

Thursday, September 21, 2023 | 6:57 PM

Andrew Kariotis has the smallest roster in his time coaching Burrell boys soccer, but his group is proving they have quality over quantity.

The Bucs have established themselves as contenders for the WPIAL Class A championship and are tied atop the Section 3-A standings with Springdale with a big first-place showdown looming Tuesday.

While it’s a small group at 18 players, it’s an experienced one with seven returning starters. They’ve also become a tight-knit team, and Kariotis believes that’s helped breed success.

“We have a pretty old lineup this year, so we have a bunch of players that have been playing together up through the system and they play for each other,” Kariotis said. “We’ve had a good atmosphere in practices going back to the summer, and they are not intimidated. They like playing in big games.”

Burrell is coming off its biggest win of the year, a 2-1 triumph over defending WPIAL Class A champ Winchester Thurston.

Jayson Ireland and Taber Driscoll had a goal apiece in the win. The Bucs had eight shots on goal to Winchester Thurston’s one, which came off a free kick and led to the lone goal.

“It was a big win, because even though they lost (Alex Hauskrecht), they are still very dangerous and fast,” Kariotis said. “Winning that game was a big accomplishment. They pushed us and made us nervous at times, but our midfielders and defenders were just spectacular with getting in the lanes. Once we took their counterpunch, we were able to keep the ball in their end and run down the clock. They didn’t get a whole lot of time in the last five minutes on our side of the field.”

A key to the Bucs’ success is how much they’ve dominated possession. Kariotis said they use technology from HUDL to process statistics and trends. It’s given them a good indication of how much they out-possess opponents, and that’s shown in the numbers. They’ve outshot their opponents 108-16. The back line of Billy Kowalkowski, Will Doutt, Luke Guerrini and Joe Discello also has been strong when called upon. Discello is only in his second season playing soccer but has picked up the game quickly.

Ryan Croushore has a pair of shutouts. The Bucs have allowed one goal or less in all but one game.

“Outside of the Winchester Thurston game where it was pretty much 50/50, we’ve out-possessed every team we’ve played,” Kariotis said. “We also have a defense that is not only great at preventing goals, but preventing shots overall. Even though the possession was pretty much even (against Winchester Thurston) they only got that one shot on goal on the free kick. The rest of the game they had to shoot from bad places, or (Croushore) is coming out and intercepting passes before they can get on the other side of it.”

Burrell’s lone loss was a 1-0 defeat to Springdale. Both teams were 5-1 in the standings through Thursday.

Billy Lawrence scored an early goal for the Dynamos, and they held on from there. Burrell peppered the Dynamos for most of the second half but couldn’t find a goal. It’s the only game Burrell hasn’t scored in.

Burrell and Springdale’s stats through the first half of section play are very similar. Burrell has outscored section opponents 22-6, and Springdale outscored them 20-6.

It makes for an intriguing rematch Tuesday night.

“They got an early one on us,” Kariotis said. We were trying to prevent them from hitting long balls to their forward (Billy Lawrence), and we did a good job of that, but the one they did get through was a quick ball on the ground that was a really good skill play. After that, we hit the post a couple times and played pretty well. The only thing we didn’t do is score. We get another chance at them, and we’re really looking forward to the rematch.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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