SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ — Unable to capitalize on two chances to out the ball in the net earlier in the game, Westfield’s John Desena was hungry to have a crack at another. After all, the senior had been dreaming about scoring at archival Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s pitch since his freshman year, and wasn’t about to let potentially his final opportunity to do so pass by.
In the 53rd minute, Desena finally got that chance.
Desena broke a scoreless deadlock in the 53rd, finishing a ball played from Henry Meacock to capitalize on a Scotch Plains-Fanwood miscommunication. Westfield then fended off a ferocious Raiders attack over the remaining 37 minutes to come away with a hard-fought victory, 1-0, over their arch rivals Monday.
“I had two chances in the beginning which I missed, so I was definitely hungry for a third,” Desena told TAPinto.net. “I’ve been dreaming about scoring a goal against Scotch Plains at their field since my freshman year, four years ago. To make it finally happen was all about hunger and just wanting it.”
Though the Blue Devils out-shot the Raiders by a goal, 13-12, seemingly all the Raiders’ shots came in the later stages of the second half. That included numerous point-blank headers and near-finishes on set pieces, dangerous runs out wide down the flanks, and shots just high or wide.
However, Westfield keeper Ryan Friedburg was up for the task and made six saves to post the shutout. Despite dominating the second half, it is only the second time this season that Scotch Plains-Fanwood — now losers of two straight — has been shut out.
“That’s how it goes,” said Scotch Plains-Fanwood head coach Tom Breznitsky. “It’s as simple as this: You have to convert your opportunities. They converted one opportunity. Other than that, I thought the match was pretty much even. At times, they had the better of play; at times, we had a little better of the play. But when we had the chances that we needed to equalize, we didn’t do it.”
While Scotch Plains-Fanwood owned the run of play in of the second half, Westfield applied tremendous pressure in the opening 40 minutes and nearly struck multiple times, twice on opportunities that Desena had a chance to put away. That momentum carried into the minutes following halftime, only this time, the Blue Devils finished.
With the ball in their offensive third, Westfield started to make things happen as Meacock played a ball over to Desena. The Raiders' last line of defense suffered a second of miscommunication, opening an opportunity for Desena, who had nearly been fouled upon playing the ball.
As the keeper begun to come out, Desena took a rip from a tough angle and tapped the shot perfectly past the back post to give Westfield the first and only goal needed to win the game.
“I just took advantage of that [miscommunication], tapped it right past, and put it passed the back post,” said Desena. “I definitely think we wore them out enough in the first half for them to get out of the game,” he added.
The senior nailed it and gave Westfield its first regular season, non-tournament win over SPF in two years.
“I thought he got fouled and maybe could’ve went down,” added Westfield head coach Eric Shaw. “Unlikely that the ref gives him that, but he keeps his balance, stays with it, and to be honest, it was a tough effort.”
After Desena struck, Westfield’s second half opportunities were sparse compared to Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s, which had no other choice but to push forward and send guys up to create chances. And the Raiders nearly did create the equalizer — multiple times. But unlike in some games that Westfield has seen slip away this year, the Blue Devils got the lucky bounces down the stretch.
“If you look at our three losses, they come late in matches and some because of being unaware,” Shaw said. “This is a similar situation where a throw-in, a ball bounces on the back, and fortunately for us they missed it. Then on another chance, a ball bounces and probably should’ve been finished. But we’re lucky enough today to walk away with a win, 1-0. That’s what the game is about, right? It’s about capitalizing on your opportunities, and we capitalized on one more than they did today.”
As is the great mystery with the final Westfield-SPF regular season match, this could be the two rivals’ final meeting this year, or they could be only halfway finished with seeing each other.
In the Union County Tournament — which both teams begin in the quarterfinals this Saturday — Westfield is the No. 3 seed and Scotch Plains-Fanwood is No. 4. That means that in order for the two to meet in the tournament for the fifth time in the last six years, it would have to come in the championship, where both have met countless times over the years, most recently in 2016. The rivals are in the same state section of North 2, Group 4, and could likely square off in the state tournament, as well.
For now, Westfield is looking to build off the momentum from Monday's victory, while the Raiders must regroup after the defeat and a 4-1 loss on Saturday against Hunterdon Central.
“This starts a winning streak; starts to turn around our season,” said Desena. “So far we’ve had a rocky season so far — we’re about a .500 team with a couple wins, a couple loses — but this is definitely going to boost us up. There’s no stopping us from here.”