CHATHAM, NJ -  After getting goals from Michael Graham and Aedan Joel in the first half, Chatham boys soccer coach Mark Maka had what might be described as a surprising message for his team during the halftime break.

"Up to the goal (by Graham) we were playing well and then not so well," Maka said. "I talked to them at halftime and told them they didn't show the respect that the other team deserved. We kept it a game for 80 minutes. We're a much better team than we showed today."

Chatham won the game against Sparta, 2-0, on Tuesday at Cougar Field, but Maka may have been looking forward to Thursday's home game against Mendham, which could determine whether the Cougars, now 4-7-1, will make the state playoffs or not.

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"On a day like today when things are going a little bit more our way, we have to make sure we're bringing the energy and not ease off," Maka said. "We can't be easing off with where we're at right now. If this continues into Thursday, we're going to be in trouble. I'm happy with the result but disappointed with the performance. I don't care about the final score, it's a 2-nil win and we're going through the motions."

Despite the critique by their demanding coach, the Cougars did score two well-played goals in the first half. Senior defender Harrison Shi set up the first goal when he chipped the ball forward over the defense. Graham ran onto the ball and used his left foot to lift it over the charging Sparta goalie, Danny DiMarco, and into the empty net for a 1-0 edge in the eighth minute (see video).

"I saw him making the run and their D was high so I chipped it over," Shi said. "We did what we needed to do, we got the win and now we have a chance to make the states and make a run."

Chatham struck again in the 36h minute. Sophomore Nick DiMaggio carried the ball forward from the midfield and fed Evan Gavalakis, who turned and put a hard shot on goal. The initial shot was saved, but Joel knocked in the rebound for the 2-0 advantage.

"We've lost a lot of games this year," Maka said. "Games where we fought and the ball didn't bounce our way. We've been unlucky. Today, we got the breaks and we didn't play well. I think it is one of the worst games we've played this season. Lack of energy, lack of commitment, giving balls away in a bad spot, decision-making was poor. Just didn't show up today."

Maka's teams have a reputation for playing at their best when state tournament time rolls around. And one reason the Cougars perform well in the states is because the coach expects them to keep improving. 

"We could have played better." Shi said. "We got the result at the end of the day and we're looking to make a run in the states."

Chatham makes a bid to add to its lead in the second half of victory over Sparta