WESTFIELD, NJ — From the moment in August when Ethan Koseoglu received the email that he had made Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s varsity boys’ soccer roster, he knew exactly what game he was looking forward to.
Every young player growing up in Scotch Plains and Fanwood dreams of playing in the famed Westfield rivalry game, and Koseoglu was no different, having watched this rivalry since his elementary school days. So when the sophomore made his varsity debut Thursday afternoon against, who else, but Westfield, he made sure his first varsity game would be a memorable one.
Koseoglu scored the game winning goal with 13 minutes of play remaining to sever a scoreless deadlock and give Scotch Plains-Fanwood a 1-0 victory over archival Westfield in their first of two — potentially four — meetings this year. Koseoglu, whom head coach Tom Breznitsky just moved up to attack Thursday, had his first career varsity goal set up on a beautiful feed from classmate Nkem Okorie.
“I knew from as soon as I got the email that I’m on the team, I knew that this was the game I was going to be looking forward to — and it came. To score, nonetheless the winning goal? It’s just the best feeling in the world.”
Raiders goalkeeper Danny Coyle recorded the shutout on four saves, while Westfield’s Ryan Friedburg made eight.
Though the ball had found the back of the net three times this afternoon, both teams were scoreless heading into the 67th minute. Westfield had two goals disallowed in the first half on offsides calls, and Scotch Plains-Fanwood was also flagged for offsides on a goal-scoring corner kick early in the second half.
But that changed when Miles Longo took control of a ball in the midfield, streaked downfield to create a look, and dished off a pass to Okorie. The fleet-footed sophomore was then able to play it over to Koseoglu, who punched it into the east-facing goal and sent the Raiders and their fans into jubilation.
“It was beautiful; that’s how Scotch Plains plays,” Koseoglu said of the game-winning sequence. “We love to play and that’s how this whole program has been playing; that’s what it’s all about.”
If it weren’t for a great showing from Koseoglu in practice yesterday, there’s a likelihood his magical moment Thursday never would’ve happened.
Throughout the preseason, Breznitsky had Koseoglu playing in the midfield, and with the Raiders’ depth in the mid, he had yet to see time during the Raiders’ previous three games. But during practice on Wednesday, while working with Breznitsky’s neighbor — a former player for Ecuador — Koseoglu showed something that grabbed his coach’s attention. The sophomore was shooting the ball exceedingly well, knocking one good shot after another.
A striker on his club team, Koseoglu had right then and there won over the opportunity to get some time up top in the Raiders’ biggest game of the season to date.
“He hardly played a second and I had been playing him in the midfield,” Breznitsky said. “I’m watching Ethan [in training], and he’s banging the heck out of the ball. So I said to him, ‘Where on your club team do you play’? He said, ‘Striker’. I said, ‘Okay. You be ready, because you may get some time there tomorrow’.”
Koseoglu will now surely have many more opportunities to create memories as a varsity player. But he will never forget his feat on Tuesday.
“It’s amazing and a great thing to look back to,” he said. “I’m going to look back to it my whole life.”
Koseoglu saw much more time in the second half as opposed to the first. Not surprisingly, it was in that second half where the Raiders played their best soccer — as they have all season. The first half in all senses belonged to Westfield.
“We had magic,” said Westfield head coach Eric Shaw. “I thought we were very, very good in the first half and played exceptionally well. The second half was a different story.”
The Blue Devils came out of the gate quickly and seemingly took a 1-0 lead less than four minutes into the game. Matias Arbelaez sent a rebound into the net, but it was negated on an offsides call. Then, 22 minutes later, Henry Meacock’s score on a beautiful feed from Andrew Echausse yielded another short-lived celebration, as it too was called off due to offsides.
The second offsides call appeared much more controversial than the first, but still proved costly for Westfield.
“As we talked to the players, some of those decisions are out of our control,” said Shaw. “We’ll look at the tape tonight and see where we were, but in the end, we can’t change it. We talked to the players about focusing on the environment that we can control, and we can’t control the refs or the crowd and fans. Did they [negated goals] effect them? Maybe, but I like to think not, because that’s something we address on the mental side.”
Ironically, the Raiders also had a goal negated. A corner kick with 22 minutes left in the second half found Alvaro Furfaro in the six-box, but his shot into the net was no-good when the offsides call was once again made, keeping things scoreless.
Again, the Raiders found themselves in a scoreless tie in the second half, but for a resilient team that had come back in all of their three previous games this season, there was little panic down that stretch.
“There’s no doubt about it: they’ve done a great job under pressure," Breznitsky said. "They’ve shown resilience coming back and not giving up. We’re working hard, and for a change, we caught the break.”