Yianni Ekonomides scored twice for defending Group 1 champion Pompton Lakes, which opened its state tournament run with a 3-0 win over New Milford in the North 1, Group 1 state sectional opener.
POMPTON LAKES – Last year was a dream season that culminated with a Group 1 state championship for the Pompton Lakes boys soccer program. The blueprint to that success was a lights out defense that did not allow a single postseason goal until the state final and simply outworking the opposition. The Cardinals had to replace 11 seniors from that squad and had a roller coaster season in 2018, but as the state tournament began on Monday the Cardinals were focused on one thing: defending their title.
Using the same successful formula as last year, the Cardinals came out like a team peaking at the right time of the season. They allowed just one shot on goal and got a pair of goals from Yianni Ekonomides and one from Rigon Abedini in cruising to a 3-0 first-round win over 11th-seeded New Milford in the North 1, Group 1 opener at Hershfield Park in Pompton Lakes.
“We have had a tough season but we still have confidence and we want to be the best team every time we step on the field,” said Abedini.
Playing on the bumpy grass pitch that they call home was a clear advantage for the Cardinals throughout and they made use of it early. Samir Elmorsy cleared a ball out that skipped ahead into space up the left flank for Abedini. The versatile junior did the rest by cutting back to avoid a defender and tuck a shot inside the near post to put Pompton Lakes, the No. 6 seed, ahead in the 12th minute.
Matteo Urrego had New Milford's lone shot on goal.
“When I was heading up to the ball I knew I was one-on-one with the center back so I had to make a move,” added Abedini. “I cut a couple times and when I got space I had to take a good shot.”
Later in the half, the Cardinals’ leading scorer showed why he is one of the more dangerous players in North 1, Group 1. With a defender draped all over him near the top of the box senior Yianni Ekonomides settled a looping long ball from Bobby Jenkin. He took a quick touch to his right then struck a perfect volley into the side netting inside the left post to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead at halftime.
“The sun was in my eyes so I was more focused on getting the ball down more than putting it in the back of the net,” said Ekonomides. “So when I won the ball and got some room I aimed for the lower left corner and that’s where it went.”
A 75-second span midway through the second half proved to the difference between a close game and the game being all but wrapped up. New Milford’s lone shot came off of a fantastic individual effort from Mateo Urrego. He used some nifty dribbling to slither between a pair of Cardinal defenders, but his shot from point-blank range was stonewalled by Pompton Lakes keeper Chris Truono for his lone save of the afternoon. Just over a minute later, Ekonomides placed a lefty shot into the upper left-hand corner to put the finishing touches on the win.
Rigon Abedini and Pompton Lakes will host Boonton in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
Jenkin, Ben Deyo, and Chris Burger led a staunch defensive effort for Pompton Lakes (12-8). Ekonomides scored his team-leading 13th and 14th goals of the season. Albert Poni finished with five saves for New Milford (8-9).
On top of the win, Pompton Lakes caught a break when 14th seeded Boonton upset third-seeded Hasbrouck Heights in penalty kicks. That means the Cardinals will play another home state game when they face the Bombers on Thursday. Regardless of the opponent, the Cardinals know what it takes to be a winner in the state tournament and are chomping at the bit to make another run at a championship season.
“Once the state tournament starts everybody left has the same record,” said Ekonomides. “In the end, we’re all Group 1 schools and they have 11 players on the field just like we do. To advance in the states, it comes down to effort and how badly you want to win.”