There’s a wide-open feel to the boys Central League this season for a number of reasons. Perhaps it’s a lack of a dominant team, though Lower Merion’s 3-0 win over Strath Haven in a battle of unbeaten stakes the Aces case for that title. Maybe it’s that there isn’t as wild of swings in results as last year, with parity at the top making any type of hierarchy difficult to discern.
At least part of the reason for this year’s openness is that a pair of traditional powers that made districts last year has never gotten going this season: Springfield and Upper Darby.
Both teams qualified for districts last year, losing road decisions by one goal – the Royals fell in overtime – to end their seasons. Both had to contend with a major overhaul of their team. For Springfield, a rock-solid backline that included All-Delco defender Kyle Chevalier and goalie Dave Sousa among other strong players had to be completely replaced. Upper Darby lost all of its midfield, including All-Delco Sam Ortiz, and the vast majority of its goal production.
And both have been unable to completely compensate for those losses, taking them past the halfway mark of the season with identical 3-8-0 records. (Upper Darby added a 1-1 draw with Bonner-Prendergast Monday night).
For Springfield, a variety of factors have contributed to a six-game skid. Last year, a stout defense got away with winning 1-0 and 2-1 games, thanks in large part to Sousa’s stellar play. This season, the Cougars have only had four players find the back of the net, led by four for Nick Jannelli, totaling 11 goals. It’s a rare defense that could thrive which such offensive numbers, and the Cougars don’t have that luxury two seasons in a row.
The defense has held its own, but the goalkeeping battle hasn’t had a clear winner with Mike Gerzabek and Tyler Ranieri, both promising underclassmen, growing into the role.
Offensive woes are no stranger to Upper Darby, which has scored 13 goals this season. In addition to the roster upheaval, UD is facing its first season in a half-century without Tom Farr on the bench. Longtime JV coach Larry Flood has stepped in with a familiarity of many of the young players called upon this season, but that hasn’t translated into wins yet.
Of those 13 goals, five came in an August 31 drubbing of Delco Christian and three came in an overtime loss to Interboro. That leaves just five goals to go around for the other 10 games.
Defense hasn’t been the issue: Thanks to returnees like Martin Dempster and Marc Howard, the Royals have always been competitive. But they’ve lost six games by one-goal margins, including three 1-0 losses, all in the Central League.
Dempster’s goal against Haverford Sept. 26 broke a string of three straight shutouts. They have forwards with talent in Jonah Yillal, Kelvin Paye and Anthony Berkoh, but the pieces haven’t fit together properly just yet.
It isn’t for lack of trying. Flood has tried about every conceivable permutation up front. He’s moved back-up goalkeeper Ryan Hanrahan, a rare owner of varsity experience when the year began, into the field for stretches. He recently benched incumbent No. 1 goalkeeper Ryan Johnson, a tactic that seems to have worked judging by Johnson’s 13-save performance in the shutout of Haverford.
There’s still time for each team to right the ship. But the clock is ticking.