Two words that are a soccer coach’s best friend in a postgame interview – and the bane of the soccer writer’s existence.
But on a night like Tuesday, there’s no other way to perfectly encapsulate the tribulations of the Delco teams in the boys District One Class AAA tournament.
Five teams. Five losses. Four by one-goal margins. Three by identical, 2-1, overtime scores.
Two words: “That’s soccer.”
Loaded in that seemingly tired aphorism is quite a punch: That the game isn’t always friendly, that it has a weird way of turning on a dime, that the run of play and the scoreline often tell vastly different stories.
Take Upper Darby, which led 1-0 early on against Pennsbury and was mere inches away from a lead as big as 3-0. Or Strath Haven, which saw a 1-0 lead provided by Christian Belanger cast asunder in a 2-1 loss to North Penn in double-overtime. Or Radnor, which also built an early lead thanks to Peter Donato before bowing out to Souderton in double-overtime. Or Springfield, which had several chances cleared off the line millimeters from goal in what became a 1-0 loss to Wissahickon.
Sure, each of the five teams – Penn Wood, 6-0 losers to Downingtown West in a game that didn’t stay close for long was the fifth – entered as an underdog facing a long trip to the far reaches of District One.
But with the exception of the Patriots, you’d be hard-pressed to label any of them as surprises had they sprung upsets. Wissahickon, though riding a 15-game winning streak into the meeting with veteran-laden Springfield, did so in a less-than-formidable Suburban One American Conference. Man for man, Upper Darby has the skill to play with just about anyone. Strath Haven traveled to North Penn with a bevy of experienced seniors and a recent run of good form, as did a physically imposing Radnor team.
But the truth, as was reinforced to yet another generation of young soccer players Tuesday, is that the margins at this level are razor thin. An inch or two here on the Wissahickon field, a centimeter or so on the Pennsbury post, and you’re reading a much different story. It’s tough to explain, no matter how long the final bus ride for so many seniors proved to be Tuesday, and tougher to understand.