SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD — With goal-scoring having come at a premium during the first three weeks of the regular season, Scotch Plains-Fanwood head coach Tom Breznitsky made an executive change before the Raiders’ match with Plainfield Thursday afternoon.
All season long, the Raiders had operated in a 4-3-3 formation, but struggled offensively in it to the tune of scoring just 1.4 goals-per-game through their first eight contests. On Thursday, Breznitsky moved his team into a 4-4-2, and it didn’t take long for the adjustment to pay dividends.
Just 10 minutes into the game, Alvaro Furfaro found the net and the Raiders never looked back, surging for a season-high four goals — two in each half — to defeat Plainfield, 4-0, and snap a two-game losing skid. Furfaro went on to score twice and deal an assist, while teammates Colin Dwyer netted a goal and an assist, Owen Murphy scored a tally, and Alex Levy contributed an assist.
“Before, I don’t think we were getting the midfield involved too much,” Furfaro said. “The 4-4-2 made us better on counterattacks and attacking overall. The 4-4-2 definitely benefited us.”
Furfaro is the first of whom the Raiders hope are many beneficiaries of the formation, proving its success in the game’s earliest stages.
With just over 10 minutes down in the first half, Ryan Widman gained control of a ball in the midfield and came storming down the left flank all the way to the corner flag before playing the ball into the Raiders’ attacking third. Chris Vinci — back from injury that had sidelined him for the first three weeks of the season — put the ball between the legs of a Plainfield defender and got it to Furfaro at the back post. Furfaro put on a quick move to get his defender to slide, then buried his shot to give the Raiders a lead they wouldn’t relent.
“The first goal gives us the aggression to keep moving on,” Furfaro said. “The first goal wasn’t really complicated — it was simple. The more we play simple, the better off we are.”
“It makes you feel a lot safer, if that makes sense,” he added of the 4-4-2. “I have more options to play to and move off of.”
Furfaro would add a penalty kick goal in the 77th minute to cap off the Raiders’ successful afternoon. It was his first goal, however, that allowed the Raiders so much success on Thursday.
Scoring a goal early took the pressure off Scotch Plains-Fanwood, as it provided an early cushion that the team hasn't experienced this season. The lead was extended when Owen Murphy converted a penalty kick in the 22nd after a hard foul in the box to make it 2-0 at the end of the first half.
That was the team’s first halftime lead all season.
“The biggest thing was that we were attacking from the start,” Murphy said. “We were going at them from the start, so once we started attacking and putting on a lot of pressure, we set the tempo from there. Once you get the early goal, it just gives you a whole lot of confidence to keep going and get more. That’s the best part right now of what we did — it’s how we came out and the energy we came out with.”
Staked comfortably to the two-goal advantage in the second half, the Raiders added some insurance when Colin Dwyer found the back of the net in the 64th minute to make it 3-0. Furfaro put the cherry on top by converting the late PK after a hard tackle in the box.
As the Raiders learned Thursday, defending a lead is a lot less stressful, too. Danny Coyle came up with five saves for the shutout behind his backline, featuring combinations of Joey Linder, Antonio Lomonte, Eli Wolman, Miles Longo, and Jason Trivisonno.
“Scoring early changes the whole complexion of the game,” Breznitsky said. “That’s something that we haven’t been doing. That coupled with the fact that we changed the formation from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2, which I thought it was a major factor in how we played today.”
With Thursday’s success in the formation, it would certainly seem as though the Raiders will roll with the 4-4-2 as the games start to get much more important heading forward. On Wednesday, the Raiders received the No. 4 seed in the Union County Tournament, and will receive a bye into the quarterfinals, two weeks away on October 12.
If this 4-4-2 continues to find success, the Raiders would appear primed to make a run at their first county championship since 2015. Defense has been the team’s strength all season, and remains full in-tact with the four backs. The four-man diamond midfield allows for more rotation and involvement, and that directly leads to more action by creating scoring chances in the offensive third, which would seem to have solved the team’s scoring problems from early on.
“I think in the 4-4-2, we got to use a few more guys that we haven’t seen and definitely a few guys that bring energy off the bench,” Murphy said. “We also now definitely have guys that are understanding the defensive roles that come with the offensive side of it. Offensive is a privilege of playing good defense, and I think a lot of guys are seeing that now. In this formation, we can have a better balance on the offensive and defensive side.”