HADDONFIELD – On the surface, the moment appeared to be just another through ball in a high school soccer game.
The same pass has been attempted over a thousand times across South Jersey since the season opened in early September. On grass and on turf, strikers have searched for that opening on the backline of a defense and tried to exploit any and all openings along the 18-yard line.
In many ways however, it’s a moment that encapsulates the opening nine games for the Washington Township boys’ soccer team. The Minutemen (9-0) sit atop the SJSCA rankings again after one month and appear to be there to stay. Over the course of 8-plus seasons under Shane Snyder, Township has been a force defensively and on this day and this play, nothing has changed.
That is with the exception of the personnel.
“It’s our job to stop (the offense),” senior center back Will Pollack said after a 4-0 win at Haddonfield on the fast artificial surface of its football stadium. “I know the record shows we’re doing well but I think we should be better.”
“We are a team first,” junior Justin Bautista said. “Defense is a team concept. We have plenty of support across the field. We have a strong keeper (Mike Pagano), and we have a strong midfield that keeps things outside.
“We’ve allowed three goals this year but the fact is, it should be less.”
High expectations are a given in a program that has won four straight Group 4 South Jersey titles, a pair of Group 4 state titles in 2014-15 and enters the year as The Coaches Tournament champions.
Since taking over from Tom Patterson in 2010, Shane Snyder’s team is 161-27-12 and Snyder will be the first to tell you that’s all about his players.
“I’m really proud of what that back line has done,” Snyder said. “We’ve had a lot of great players in this program and it’s raised our level of expectations. This group of defenders, Will, Justin, (junior Josh) Arkelian, (senior Sean) Zemlak and don’t forget we’re using (freshman Aiden McGuigan) back there too. Add in (Pagano) who has worked incredibly hard and played outstanding and our defense is a strength.”
Granted, the Minutemen have plenty of senior leadership across the board and an offense built around seniors Chad Yates (nine goals), Brett Guetens (eight), Arturo Serano (four) and junior Alex Desiderio (four assists) on the attack with Jake Logar and Ryan Jobes manning a midfield that has dominated opponents 27-3 over the first nine games.
On Saturday, up 2-0, Haddonfield (7-2) tried to get a ball past that back line to Tommy Mollis. Pollack guided Mollis wide before knocking the ball wide where Zemlak easy turned it back up field. For Pollack it’s a moment that just one year ago, he thought may never come.
For much of his playing career, Pollack has been an outside back. At Washington Township, his junior year was spent with the junior varsity, as most of his friends and club teammates were elevated to varsity. Pollack admits to plenty of frustration but in hindsight it may be the best thing that happened.
“There were definitely times I was frustrated,” said Pollack, who was an integral part of the first undefeated season at the JV level along with a second straight JV Tournament title. “I knew I had the ability to play, I knew I had the skill set but in a program like this, sometimes numbers work against you.”
“I knew he wasn’t the type of player that would happily sit on a bench,” Snyder said. “He’s a kid who needs to play. We’ve had juniors come up and in two weeks, they hate it because of playing time. Will knows what he had in front of him.”
True enough, the Township defense in 2017 was a tough group to crack. On a team that went 21-4-1, the back line had seniors Jason Arkelian, Vince Romano, Will McCusker (can anyone remember the last time a McCusker wasn't on the back line for the Minutemen?), Michael Funaro (now playing at Rutgers-Camden), and Ed Rainey (Elizabethtown). That team went 21-4-1and allowed 16 goals all season long including three over the first nine games when it went 7-2.
“You look at that lineup and yeah, you understand that if you want to play, and I wanted to play, staying on JV counted,” Pollack said. “I think when captain’s practices started I realized that I could win the job at center back. I think that’s when I fully let last year go. I guess I’m in a good place now.”
A good place that has seen Township for just the third time in nine years allow three goals or less in its first nine games. A place that has the Minutemen atop the Olympic American and 9-0 for just the second time since 2010.
“I’ve had a lot to learn and I’m fortunate I have upper classmen like these to help,” said McGuigan, who along with Matt Liss is one of two freshman on the squad that is coming off its fourth straight South Jersey title and has a deep talent pool to collect from at the Gloucester County school. “Will has shown me a lot about how to prepare for games. We’ve been going almost every day since August and (all of the upperclassmen) really helped.”
Washington Township head coach Shane Snyder conferring with senior center back Will Pollack in a 4-0 win at Haddonfeild
Sept. 6: W 6-0 at Shawnee
Sept. 8: W 3-1 at Eastern
Sept.13: W 3-0 vs. Cherokee
Sept. 15: W 3-0 vs. Lenape
Sept. 18: W 3-0 vs. Sterling
Sept. 22: W 2-0 vs. Williamstown
Sept. 24: W 4-1 at Cherry Hill East
Sept. 26: W 2-1 vs. Shawnee
Sept. 29: W 4-0 at Haddonfield
October 2: vs. Eastern, 3:45 p.m.
October 4: at Cherokee, 3:30 p.m.
October 8: vs. Cherry Hill West, 3:45
October 10: at Lenape, 4 p.m.
October 12: vs. Cherry Hill East, 3:45
October 15: at Bishop Eustace, 3:45
October 18: at Kingsway, 4 p.m.