CLARK, NJ- Cranford High School senior Matt Medeiros scored the game-winning goal with three minutes left, capping off a wild second half which featured four goals, as the Cougars defeated the Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders boys varsity soccer team by a final score of 4-3 Tuesday afternoon in Clark.
His goal came just two minutes after Johnson senior Niko Nordstrom’s game-tying goal came with five minutes left in the second half. The Cougars would slow down the Crusaders and come through with a win.
It was five days ago when Cranford came up short in a 1-0 loss to Westfield HS, a turnaround that has the players encouraged about what lays ahead in the season.
“[This win] means a lot for our team,” Medieros said. “It means we don’t give up even when we lose, because in the preseason, we were losing to Piscataway at the half. We were trailing 5-1 and won the game 6-5. Even if we are not the better team, we don’t give up.”
The second half began with Johnson ahead by a score of 2-1, but Cranford, after gaining momentum from a late first-half penalty kick goal, changed the tone of the game as soon as the referees signaled the start of the next half.
Cranford senior Matt Ducusin tied the game 2-2 with a goal at the 15:00-mark. It came after several Cougars scoring chances had been stopped by Johnson junior goaltender Andrew Kehrle. Cranford would take a 3-2 lead following a goal from junior James Coleman, a chance that was set up by a free kick, assisted by Ducusin.
“We knew we could beat them [Johnson] if we played our best in the second half,” Coleman said. “We all came out with that mentality, with, ‘Play with confidence’ and then we just nodded three in and took the win.”
Johnson would battle back with several chances, including a shot off the right post from senior and co-captain Logan Guarino before Nordstrom’s game-tying goal, also assisted by senior Joe Benevento and Zukowski, came with five minutes left. A quick setup allowed Medeiros to score the goal that would decide the game.
“We made some adjustments and were able to get one right before halftime to lead us into the break with some confidence and that ended up working out for us in the end,” Cranford head coach Greg Campbell said.
The Cougars needed to comeback from an early deficit, as the game began with the Crusaders controlling most of the first half momentum.
Johnson senior and co-captain Zack Thornton tallied his first goal of the season with a header on the net, assisted by Guarino at the 4:52-mark of the first half, giving Johnson the 1-0 lead.
Cranford kept battling to get looks and setups on goal, but nothing was working for them in the first portion of the game.
Johnson senior Anthony Caldiero gave his team a 2-0 lead with his first goal of the season, assisted by senior and co-captain Greg Zukowski at the 17:00-mark of the first half.
The scoring opportunities kept coming for Cranford, but Kehrle continued to dominate in goal. A penalty called in the box gave Cranford a penalty kick, an opportunity to get back in the game.
Cranford junior Michael Carracino positioned himself, one-on-one with Kehrle and once the referee signaled for him to take the shot, he scored to cut the lead down to 2-1, at the 40:00-mark of the first half.
“It’s always difficult to come to that position [of preparing for a penalty kick] when the kid hit me from behind,” Carracino said. “We were down two goals, but you can’t think about it, you’ve got to step up to the ball. I didn’t think about it, I just finished it. That’s all there is to it, step up, take the penalty, go ahead and it goes in.”
Despite Johnson ahead 2-1 at halftime, Campbell was pleased with his team’s resiliency and praised his players in the comeback effort as the second half went along.
“Even when we were down 2-0, we didn’t feel like that performance was indicative of our quality,” Campbell added. “We are the team that was going to pull out the W today. I’m really proud of our guys for staying resilient and picking each other up and pushing each other to play harder in the second half.”
Despite coming up short, Johnson head coach Dan House said he was encouraged by his team’s battling in the game and was optimistic of the future games as the 2017 season goes on.
Cranford senior goaltender Andrew Rojo made five saves on eight shots in the win, while Kehrle made four saves on eight shots in the loss for Johnson.
The Johnson Crusaders (1-1) will face off on the road at Governor Livingston HS on Thursday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.