PLAINFIELD — Once again, Scotch Plains-Fanwood was in need of a second half rally to remain unbeaten. It wasn’t going to be an easy task, because the Raiders were playing on the infamously poor grass of Plainfield's Hub-Stine Field, which has challenged the team unlike any other venue over the years.
But while 40 seconds separated Scotch Plains-Fanwood from a crushing defeat, the Raiders instead came through with an uplifting result.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s resiliency was once again tested and proven with a hard-fought draw, 1-1, against Plainfield in the Raiders’ Watchung Division opener. Trailing, 1-nil, in the 79th minute, Alvaro Furfaro and Dean Kirian worked their magic just like in Saturday’s win. This time, it was Furfaro finishing a cross from Kirian to send the game into overtime and ultimately a tie.
Though not perfect, the Raiders are still unbeaten, now 1-0-2 in a young season in which they’ve trailed first in every game.
“I like having this game here, at Plainfield, a little earlier in the season; it’s definitely a mental and physical challenge for us, for sure," said Raiders senior captain Owen Murphy, who takes the veteran approach in identifying the positives of a challenge like this. "Playing on this style field is something we’re not used to. We have this nice turf field in Scotch Plains, but this is scrappy grass. We’re not really playing our soccer, so we have to adapt to it. I like having this because it really challenges us. We can definitely build on this mentally and physically,"
It certainly was a challenge, and one that took the first 79 minutes of play for the Raiders to solve.
Plainfield is a team that always is always uber-aggressive and physical, with a fouling type of approach that can really get under a team’s skin. It gave Scotch Plains-Fanwood all it could handle, and the Cardinals were on the verge of winning when Joshua Portillo’s 55th minute goal provided a lead that held into the final minute of regulation.
“When we were down, we felt a lot of pressure going through our minds,” said Furfaro. “The whole objective was just to get that goal.”
The goal finally came with the Raiders on the ropes and about 40 seconds left (there is no scoreboard or posted clock at Hub-Stine Field). On what was likely to be the team’s last possession of the match, Kirian broke free down the right flank and was able to send a cross to the back post ahead of pressure.
There to receive it was Furfaro, who tapped it into the goal from point blank range, uplifting his team from disbelieve to euphoria. It was nearly identical to the goal that won Saturday’s game, though in that instance, it was Furfaro sending a cross to Kirian.
“This was a replica; he crossed it to me, and I scored. It felt insane,” Furfaro said. “We’ve developed really good chemistry. If it weren’t for this field, we would’ve have all of our touches on. When we play at home, our chemistry is good and we can pass the ball. We trust each other.”
Furfaro’s score is just another instance of the Raiders overcoming adversity this season.
Right from the get-go, Scotch Plains-Fanwood had to respond to some early struggles in their season opener against Summit. They responded to a second half 1-0 deficit by scoring 30 seconds after allowing that first goal, before playing to a 1-1 tie. In their next game on Saturday, the Raiders scored three unanswered goals against Steinert to erase a 2-0 deficit and deliver their first win of the season. Then on Tuesday, the opponent and its playing surface pushed Scotch Plains-Fanwood to the limit before the Raiders fought back yet again.
The pressure has been on more than they would like, but the Raiders have refused to succumb.
“When you play a passing game like ours and try to concentrate on keeping the ball on the floor, an uneven grass field that has divets all over the place makes it extremely difficult,” Raiders head coach Tom Breznitsky said. “As far as a team, I’m very pleased with the resilience. That’s all you can ask of your players — to give 100 percent. They’ve done it.”
Danny Coyle made two saves while Plainfield's Anderson Lopez stopped three. The Raiders had eight shots to Plainfield's four.
In addition to the field condition, the other outlying challenge Tuesday was Plainfield's physicality. The Cardinals committed eight fouls and a yellow card, and the majority of the Raiders' nine fouls were in response to chippy plays on Plainfield's side.
However, that is yet another test of adversity that the Raiders see as a chance to improve upon while the season is still young.
“Their physicality always tests us, and they’re also very good soccer players," Murphy said. "I think today, our physicality wasn’t matched to theirs in the beginning of the game and into the second half, especially when they put the goal in. But once the game got up and running, we definitely matched them and once we got the goal, we got the momentum and were playing stronger."
“This game will definitely be a wake-up call," he added. "I think all the guys are tired of coming from behind, because we’ve done it three games now. We have to be ready at the start.”
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