WESTFIELD, NJ -- Scotch Plains-Fanwood extended its unbeaten streak to 13 on Saturday with a victory over arch rival Westfield, 1-0, at Kehler Stadium, where the Raiders had not won in three years. The Raiders are now off to its best start since the decade began.
Zidan Abdella scored the lone goal 21 minutes into the game on a feed from Rock Valian, and then Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s dominant midfield and back line took over from there to deliver the shutout. Goalkeeper Dan Coyle needed just three saves for his fourth shutout, as the Raiders out-shot the Blue Devils, 11-4.
“Everywhere you pass the ball, there’s gonna be someone who can control it there,” Owen Murphy, who anchors down the dominant midfield. “From the top, we have one of the best strikers in the state in Zidan; in the midfield, me and the Ferraras have been holding down the fort; and in the back, the three defenders have been on lockdown. Then we have Refinski and Coyle in goal, and with them, it makes [leads] feel so safe.”
Scotch Plains-Fanwood came out firing right from the start. After applying great offensive pressure and threatening for the first 21 minutes, it was a familiar face that put the Raiders ahead for good.
With 19 minutes remaining in the opening half, Valian played a ball to Abdella — this week's Joint Motion Physical Therapy Athlete of the Week — inside the 6-box. Abdella took an initial shot that was blocked by Westfield keeper Julian Trott, but the ball was jarred lose back out to him, and the senior then tapped it past the goal line.
Abdella now has a team-best 12 goals this season.
“I barely remember the play; all I can remember was taking one touch past the last defender,” Abdella said. “The defender was running back to the goal, and deflected off him and went in.”
While Abdella didn’t exactly remember the play well, it went so similar to how his goals always happen. He was in the right place at the right time, ready to receive the feed from up top, and finished what was sent his way.
“He was in the right place. That what good strikers, forwards, finishers do — they get the one that you need,” head coach Tom Breznitsky said. “I gave a little challenge to Zidan. I said, ‘you played exceptionally well in the last Westfield game and we won, and I need you to do the same thing today’, and he did. It’s one of the better games he’s played.”
A 1-0 lead for Scotch Plains-Fanwood seems much larger because of the Raiders’ exceptional midfield and backline, which seemingly refuses to allow any sort of runs. Saturday, with Joey Linder, Ryan Widman, and Alex Levy on the defense behind defensive mids like Owen Murphy and Michael and Alex Ferrara, that was again the case.
Westfield managed just four shots — none in the second half — as the Raiders were constantly winning balls in the mid before they even got to the defensive third.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever played on a team where I have more confidence in the guys behind me.” Murphy said. “When we got our first goal today — it could have been 3-0, 4-0 with the chances we had — but we got the goal, knew how to lock it down, and had no mistakes in the back. That’s the way it’s been the entire season.”
Westfield could never generate momentum and barely had any legitimate runs. The Blue Devils’ defense did a good job of calming down the Raiders attack after Abdella’s goal, and Trott came up with five saves, but those score-stopping efforts did not help out offensively.
“If you look tomorrow and see 1-0, it sounds like a close game, but to be honest, we didn’t create anything,” Westfield head coach Eric Shaw said. “We didn’t hold anything or get into the attacking third, and certainly, that’s kudos to Scotch Plains and putting us in the middle third. We lack the ability to hold the ball and connect, and when we lost it, we weren’t good enough at putting guys in the middle on pressure.”