GALLOWAY — After a 2-2 start to the season, the Absegami boys soccer team struggled in late September and into the first week of October, losing four straight games. But the Braves have won two of their last three games to improve to 4-7 and keep their state playoff hopes alive.
Absegami beat Pleasantville a week ago, 3-2, to halt that four-game skid, but then were blown out by Mainland, 5-1, which meant the Braves needed a bounce-back win over visiting Lower Cape May.
Senior Juan Tamayo Barreto made sure Absegami got off to a fast start by heading in a corner kick from Paul Ford to give the Braves a 1-0 lead and keeper Santino Giacomo came up with a brilliant save a few minutes later to keep the Caper Tigers off the board. The Braves added two more tallies to cruise to a 3-0 victory that inched them closer to the .500 mark, with a big showdown with rival Oakcrest looming on Thursday afternoon. The Falcons beat Absegami 3-0 in the first round of Cape-Atlantic League National Conference play.
"It's been a challenging start, coming in as a new coach. There are a lot of new things I'm throwing at them, so, from that perspective they've handled it pretty well. But our record does not show that, so we have to see what we can do to finish out the rest of the year strong," said Mike Whalen, who took over this year from longtime Braves coach Bill Rose. "We were trying guys in different spots to see if we can fill some holes. We're going up against Oakcrest on Thursday and they are a little more of a direct team, so we were trying to emulate that with our lineup. We have a lot of guys who haven't seen a lot of time, so it was good to get those early goals to get those guys who have been working hard all year some valuable minutes and experience."
"I think we can make a comeback, I really think we can. We just have to focus and play hard, and I'm pretty sure we will. We just have to work on building really good chemistry with each other," said Tamayo Barreto, one of just a handful of seniors on the Braves' roster. "We need to start working and scoring earlier in games and set the defense up in the back."
Lower Cape May (2-10, 0-10) had a golden opportunity to even the game at 1-1 about midway through the first half, but Giacomo made a tremendous save to keep the Caper Tigers off the board. Colin Mill got a ball through onto his foot and was all alone against Giacomo, who charged off his line and deflected a point-blank shot from Mill away from danger.
"Sonny has done very well for us. He's stepped up in his role. The goal differential doesn't really show what he's done this year," Whalen said of his junior keeper. "This is his first year starting, he would come off the bench occasionally last year, but it's a role he's trying to embrace. Next year, he'll be really good for us."
"I got really scared (on that play) but we just have to talk to each other on defense and make sure we know where we are on the field," Barreto said. "I thought he was going to score because he was one-v-one with our goalie, but, gladly, (Giacomo) made that save. I think that scary feeling made us play better and harder."
Absegami (4-7, 3-7) got a little breathing room later in the first half when Kingsley Nomah corraled a throw-in, dribbled into the box and placed a shot into the lower right corner to push the lead to 2-0. Alexis Varela added to the lead in the second half when he scored from in close on the left side.
The Braves have some tough games coming up, including home tilts against Oakcrest, Millville and Atlantic City, so beating the Caper Tigers was imperative.
"I was taking a look at our power points. We have about four games before we get to the state playoff cutoff, so we're trying to get some good results, and just get back to winning ways," Whalen said. "We had a bad skid there for a little bit and we're trying to turn things around to make sure we're going into the state tournament with a head of steam."
"I feel like we just have to keep working harder," Tamayo Barreto said. "We have Oakcrest on Thursday and that's going to be a tough game, but we just have to work hard and play for each other, and that will build chemistry. We're looking forward to that game."
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays