SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD — There hasn’t been anybody hotter on Scotch Plains-Fanwood lately than Rock Valian; his most recent showing of excellence coming on Wednesday.
On an unseasonably warm afternoon — perhaps a metaphor for how he has been playing this past week and change — the senior emphatically scored twice in the first 11 minutes to lead undefeated (14-0) Scotch Plains-Fanwood over South Plainfield, 3-1. Alvaro Furfaro netted the other goal for the Raiders, who out-shot the Tigers, 17-3.
"It felt great, because I just wanted to come out and keep the streak going," Valian told TAPinto.net. "It's great. I have a good streak going, and I want to end it like that."
It’s not every day that a soccer team scores on its exact first possession of the game, and initially it didn’t look like the Raiders would, either. But one crafty Valian move changed all that.
Ten seconds into the game, Jonathan Koseoglu caused a turnover in the midfield to give Scotch Plains-Fanwood its first possession of the game. The ball soon found Valian, broke free in the left side of the 18 box. The senior created space from his defender on a pivot, turned towards the goal, and buried a shot past an oncoming South Plainfield keeper Bryan Cruz.
"You have to stay focused, because you kind of want to slack off after you score," Valian said. "You just gotta keep going."
True to his words just eleven minutes later, Valian came streaking down the center of the field after being played a ball from the midfield and scored in stride to make it 2-0 with 29:00 left in the first half. Cruz also came out of the goal to try and stop the run, but Valian read it and pushed his left-footed shot across the box to the right wall of the goal.
As he enters the second half of his final season playing high school soccer, Valian has played entering a man on a mission. He was red-hot entering Tuesday’s game against South Plainfield, and Valian now has five goals and two assists in the last eight days — four games. He owns nine total points on the season.
"My speed of play is just changing everything," Valian said. "I'm just trying to get after it. I just got one goal, and kind of just went this way."
After South Plainfield cut the deficit in half on Adrian Dominguez’s goal off an errand clear attempt from Raiders keeper Danny Coyle in the 19th minute, Alvaro Furfaro shut the door on any possible Tigers momentum heading into the half.
With 2:12 remaining in the first half, Furfaro jumped high to receive a free kick in the box and flicked the ball backwards with his head. It redirected perfectly into the upper right corner, giving the Raiders the 3-1 lead that’d prove to win.
"The ball was around the penalty area and it was the perfect height, so I just hit it backwards to see if anything could happen, and it came out as a goal," Furfaro said. "It was relieving; it helped us get to 14-0 and we're confident for the rest of the season."
"It's unbelievable [to remain unbeaten]," he added. "We put an amount of effort into every game and practice to get to this point, and being 14-0 is the best feeling ever."
To its credit, South Plainfield — coached by former SPF Raider player Anthony Perfilio — stopped the bleeding after Furfaro's goal and played an even second half with the Raiders, currently ranked sixth in the state by the Newark Star Ledger. South Plainfield actually had a chance to put another goal in when it was awarded a penalty kick late in the first half on a questionably call, but Coyle dove right to save it.
Tigers keeper Cruz also stopped a PK, when he smothered up Zidan Abdella's attempt in the 65th minute. Cruz finished with six saves, while Coyle and Eric Refinski each had one for the Raiders.
"Pretty much every game, when we don't perform well, it's because of the first ten minutes," Perfillio, who once played under Scotch Plains-Fanwood head coach Tom Breznitsky, said. "We make mistakes, and you can't give up mistakes against a quality team like Scotch Plains. Once you do that, you're already down one. They're a much better possession team than us -- it's pretty obvious."