CHATHAM, NJ - Chatham boys soccer coach Mark Maka has been contemplating what kind of balance he'd like to see in his team during the preseason, switching players into different spots to see what rises and dips.
Maka found a way to upset the balance of a scoreless game against Madison Wednesday when he inserted sophomore Ryan Johnson into the game in the second half. The winger soon produced the first goal of his varsity career, crossing a ball into the middle where it banged off a defender and into the goal (see the video below).
Johnson's goal in the 59th minute gave Chatham the lead and seniors Nick Kaisand and Ian Kagan each followed with a goal that sent the Cougars to a 3-0 season-opening win over Madison at Cougar Field.
"He's one of our younger guys and he's been training well and shown some things in the final third in training," Maka said of his decision to put Johnson into the game. "It was 0-0 for a long time. He always gives a really good effort. I keep saying to these guys, If we're going to be consistent in outworking the other team, we're going to do really well this season."
Madison then made a bid to tie the game with a point-blank shot that senior goalie Pater Han saved to preserve the lead.
"He made a good save and that kept the momentum going our way for sure," Maka said. "I thought we played a little tight. Once we got that first goal, we got comfortable and started playing the way we want to play."
Johnson's goal broke open the dam. Less than two minutes later, Nick Suter's pass sent Kaisand on goal and he slotted it past the charging Madison keeper to make it 2-0.
Suter helped set up the third goal as well, touching the ball to Kagan, who fired in a left-footed shot from 25 yards (see the video below).
Kagan, a central defender last season, switched into an offensive midfield spot, with senior Marlon Kripzak moving back to take Kagan's position.
"Marlon stepped out of midfield and came back into the center back to free Ian up to get a little higher, which paid off on the third goal," Maka said. "One of the things we've talked about is being selfless and (Kripzak) was awesome when I asked him to do it. Just like a senior captain, he said whatever's best for the team. He stepped into it and it went great."
Kripzak, junior Remi Ufheil and senior Jameson Shi all played in the center of the Chatham defense, with senior Patrick Conte and junior Cole Bixby as the outside backs. That group helped senior goalies Aidan Babovic and Han combine for the shutout.
"(Kagan) strikes the ball well and provides a different sort of player," Maka said. "After the Ridge scrimmage we asked: What is the balance that we're looking for? Having Ian higher up on the field gives us a different balance."
Ian Kagan, Nick Kaisand and Ryan Johnson talk about their goals after the game