Updated at 9:21 a.m.
CLARK, NJ — A seismic shift on the Union County girls’ soccer scene occurred Monday night.
For the first time in 10 years, there will be a new Union County Tournament (UCT) champion. Scotch Plains-Fanwood engineered a dynasty that has gone unmatched in the state with nine straight UCT titles, but arch rival Westfield dramatically ended that run in penalty kicks in Monday’s semifinal.
After Westfield’s Rutgers-commit Faith Dobosiewicz netted an improbable goal to tie the game at one with just 12:34 remaining to force overtime, the two powerhouses played the 20 extra minutes to no avail. Westfield then out-shot Scotch Plains-Fanwood, 4-2, in penalty kicks, advancing on Julia Weinstein’s clincher after keeper Erin Harris came up with a save in the third PK set to give Westfield the two-goal advantage.
Westfield will play Cranford for the championship, likely this Thursday or Friday night at Kean University, with a start time TBD.
“We knew coming into this game that we were big underdogs, so it took a lot of pressure off of us knowing that they won this county championship for so long,” Dobosiewicz said. “That was a big motivator for us. We wanted to knock them off and we want the title for ourselves this year.”
Scotch Plains-Fanwood had jumped ahead, 1-0, on Corinne Lyght’s header at the back left post off a Rachel Schoss corner two minutes out of halftime, which came after the Raiders dominated the first half. And with the Raiders’ backline playing as well as it ever has, that lead seemed pretty safe, as the SPF appeared destined to have the chance to win a 10th straight title.
But when these two teams play, both squads enamored with talent, no lead is ever safe.
After the Raiders jumped ahead, Westfield Head Coach Alex Schmidt made the tactical decision to bring up Dobosiewicz, his star defender, so that the senior captain who has come through for her Westfield team so many times over the years could have a chance to make something happen offensively.
And with just over 12 minutes left, that’s exactly what she did.
Dobosiewicz received a ball about 40 yards out from the Raiders’ goal and decided to take a chance and shoot. Her kick soared through the brisk October evening and was right on target. The ball descended literally a fraction of an inch above the keeper’s fingers, smacked the blue netting, made it a new game, and gave Westfield the momentum back.
“I saw the ball pop out, and I knew I had a lot of space,” Dobosiewicz said of how the play developed. “I was like, ‘I’m just going to take this shot, get it on frame, and see if it goes in.’”
“It’s happened before; we’ve been down before, and I just know that I want that goal and want to make a big play,” she added. “As a captain, I want to be able to do that for my teammates and the team in general.”
Dobosiewicz is one of the best players in the state and has been the heart and soul of this Westfield team during her career, which means she knows all too well the feeling of Scotch Plains-Fanwood dominating the County come late October.
But for her and her classmates’ senior year, things will be different.
“This literally means the world to me; all I’ve wanted was to beat Scotch Plains,” Dobosiewicz said. “No one in our program has really done it before, going years back. It’s just really great to be the ones to do it.”
Westfield kept the tie in tact during overtime, highlighted by an outstanding stop in the first OT by Julia Johnson-Milstein in a one-on-one situation before an empty net inside the box after the keeper got beat at the top of the six. That was the best scoring chance by either side in OT, which soon gave way to PKs.
After Scotch Plains-Fanwood shot first and hit the post, Westfield jumped ahead when Alyssa Martinez converted the Blue Devils’ first PK. The Raiders would get even next round when Leah Klurman sunk a shot, but Westfield held the advantage, as it scored first, and the Blue Devils never missed. Riley Ciarletta, Sofia Carayannopoulos, and Weinstein all scored consecutively to secure the PK win.
Harris made a huge save in the third set to allow Westfield to extend a two-goal advantage, which held.
“There’s a lot of factors that go into [saving PKs],” said Harris. “Some people say it’s the way your toes point when you line up at the ball. But for me, if they’re super wide, I’m going to the right, and if they’re super straight on the ball, I’m going left. That’s basically all that I think about.”
“Soccer is really all about momentum and who’s dominating the game,” Harris added. “For us to keep the momentum in overtime really pushed us through to the end.”
Scotch Plains-Fanwood seemed to be on top of that momentum battle early on, however. The Raiders’ backline was absolutely stellar all night, but especially in the first half, with Leah Klurman, Gabby Aloe, Ashley DeFrancesco, Lily Camacho, and others coming up with huge stops and tackles. The Raiders had a couple of dangerous scoring chances in the first half, especially during the half’s final 10 minutes, but finally broke through on Lyght’s set piece score off the boot from Schoss in the 43rd minute.
“We knew they were going to come out flying,” said Westfield head coach Alex Schmidt. “In our last game against them, they weren’t happy about that last tie. The first half was pretty much what we wanted, at 0-0. They definitely outplayed us in the first half, but we hung in there and kind of moved some things around at halftime, as they did, as well.”