Ramapo 18th straight win gets Raiders into section final

Sebastian Varela converted a penalty kick 16 minutes into the second half to give Ramapo the lead for good in a 2-0 win over Passaic Valley in the North 1, Group 3 state sectional semifinals on Tuesday.

FRANKLIN LAKES – Even on days that it has not played its best games Ramapo has been able to extend its now considerable winning streak. One of those ‘off nights’ was in the last round of the North 1, Group 3 state sectional playoffs where the top seed just more than a week removed from winning the Bergen County Tournament for the fourth straight year, had to fend off a stiff challenge from ninth-seeded West Essex in the quarterfinals.

“We had a team talk [after the West Essex game] and Coach [Evan Baumgarten] really picked us up in our mentality and our spirits,” said Ramapo midfielder Matthew O’Shea. “We definitely needed more energy in this game, we definitely had to work harder and I think the performance from last game definitely wanted to make us do a lot better out here today.”

Up against another scrappy side in Passaic Valley, the No. 4 seed, Ramapo had advantages in possession and scoring chances for most of the way, but that did not translate to an advantage on the scoreboard until midway through the second half. It was a direct result of all that possession, with O’Shea making another probing run in the middle of the field, that Passaic Valley, which was well-organized in the back throughout, finally was forced into a mistake.

O’Shea was tipped over from behind, Sebastian Varela made the rewarded penalty kick Ramapo had the only goal it needed but not the only one it got in a 2-0 victory that finished in a hail storm on Tuesday in Franklin Lakes. The win moves the Green Raiders, the defending Group 3 state champs, into Friday’s North 1, Group 3 final against Northern Valley/Old Tappan, a 2-1 winner over Sparta, in a rematch of the Bergen County Tournament championship match won by Ramapo, which is now on an 18-game winning streak.

Facundo Frascolla had one of Passaic Valley's best scoring chances at the end of a bull run in the 63rd minute.

Tuesday was the first day of a relatively mild season in terms of weather where it was safe to ask, “Why do soccer players where shorts, again?” It was chilly, it was raw and when the rain started midway through the second half it progressed into sleet and then hail. Under those conditions Ramapo took control early and had more than a few opportunities to get on the scoreboard in the first half.

O’Shea had a shot at an open goal after a scramble in the box, but his shot was deflected away by Stefano Turano in the 22nd minute and Varela had a goal off an Andrew Furman waved off by an offside call two minutes later. It was not all one-way traffic, however, as Passaic Valley was not turtling up inside its own penalty area nor did it turn down any chance to get out on the counter attack.

After a quick chance in possession in the midfield in the 26th minute, PV’s Ben Adili barged in and, close enough to be dangerous, he got his right foot into a rip that hit a defender flush and then fell right back to Adili’s feet. His second time effort finished just wide to the right. Passaic Valley keeper Alex Perez made a solid save on an Andrew Kraus effort after the Ramapo senior won the race to a 50/50 ball to keep the game scoreless heading into halftime.

The penalty kick converted by Varela 16 minutes into the second half finally broke the deadlock, but Passaic Valley never gave up the fight. Two minutes after falling behind Facundo Frascolla locked a defender on his back and charged inside the 18 with possession, but Ramapo keeper Jeremy Andreoli responded with his best save of the day, sliding out to make a bang-bang stop in traffic.

Connor Finn and the Ramapo defense are in good form heading into Friday's section final against NV/Old Tappan.

Ramapo (18-2) finally put the game away with a pretty combination that started with O’Shea, continued with Varela pushing the ball out to the right and then sending Dylan Zane up the side. Zane then rolled the ball across to Andrew Furman, who tapped the ball in from in front of goal to make it 2-0 with 9:51 to play. The Raiders then clamped down defensively and closed out the game.

“We all picked it up today. We all had each other’s back and we just played simple. Nobody tried to take on too much by themselves,” said Ramapo senior Tim Suchora, part of the Raiders’ spirited defensive effort. “We picked up the energy and we had to because Passaic Valley is a very good team. They were physical and we had to play smart.”

So now it is on to the section final where Old Tappan will be eager for another shot at the team that denied the Golden Knights a county title a couple of weeks ago.

“I think we just have to keep playing like we did today, keep improving and the results will come out like we want,” said O’Shea. “We know Old Tappan is a great team and we expect another great challenge.”