Alex Zuniga's second half goal put Pompton Lakes in front to stay in a 3-1 victory on the road at Lodi on Tuesday.
LODI – Over the course of a season there are times where a team is moving the ball well but just cannot find a way to put the ball in the net. There are also times in which a coach needs to make a passionate halftime speech that has the full attention of the team to give them a boost heading into the second half. Both of those occurrences happened for Pompton Lakes in a big game against a vastly improved Lodi squad.
However, it took an early second-half goal by Lodi to drive all the coach’s points home. That seemed to mark a switch in the Cardinals as they played with a sense of urgency from that point on and quickly saw results.
Less than a minute after Lodi took the lead, the Cardinals tied the game on a penalty kick. Alex Zuniga then pounced on a rebound midway through the half to take the lead before closing out the game with another hustle goal as Pompton Lakes picked up some valuable power points to help its seeding for the state tournament with a 3-1 win over Lodi at Kennedy Park on Tuesday.
In the ninth minute, Lodi had two chances off a corner kick inside the six-yard box. One of the Rams was all alone at the back post for a header that that was headed straight down to another Ram, who was also all alone in the middle of the box but squibbed the shot attempt.
Joshue Jaquinet assisted on Lodi's goal.
The Cardinals dodged a potential deficit as both teams moved the ball well throughout the first half. The difference was that Lodi was consistently taking shots when it got within 30 yards of the net. On the flip side, the Pompton Lakes players were often passing up shots and only had one shot on goal over the first 40 minutes. It was something Pompton Lakes’ head coach Rob Edgar addressed at halftime.
“Coach (Edgar) told us that we had to be more aggressive and look to score,” said Zuniga. “We had to motivate each other and play our best for the full 80 minutes. We weren’t playing bad or anything. But we had to play harder, we had to wake up. That goal Lodi scored definitely woke us up.”
Lodi (9-5) took the lead when Joshue Jaquinet drilled a long through ball right onto the foot of Alejandro Pena. Pompton Lakes goalie Ben Nakahara came out to challenge but Pena flicked it over his outstretched hands and bounced into the net to give the Rams a 1-0 lead.
That lead did not last long as an unnecessary challenge in the box gave Pompton Lakes a penalty kick. Andrew Armstrong stepped up and ripped a no-doubter into the lower-left hand corner to tie the game at 1 in the 49th minute.
Sean Rogers helped lead a Pompton Lakes' defensive effort.
The Cardinals put the pressure and kept it on in large part to sweeper Sean Rogers consistently winning balls then playing them wide out of the back to give his team some momentum when pushing the ball forward. One of those instances led to the go-ahead goal. The play started with Rogers and was eventually served into the box where Armstrong got enough of a volley to force a one-handed save from Lodi goalie Maden Rivera. The ball looked like it would bounce wide for a corner kick but Zuniga never gave up on the play. He pounced on the loose ball near the back post and tapped it in to put Pompton Lakes in front, 2-1.
“We play a 3-5-2 formation, having those five in the midfield really give us that width on the side and help us keep our shape,” said Rogers. “As a center back, it makes it comfortable for me to distribute the ball and get us forward into attack mode. We just had to take more shots in the second half and keep the pressure on them.”
Lodi had a pair of chances to tie the game with less than five minutes to play. Nakahara made a clutch save and another free kick from just outside the box sailed over the bar before Zuniga put the game away with his goal in the 78th minute to lock up the win for the Cardinals.
After suffering consecutive upset losses to Hawthorne by identical 1-0 scores in a span of three days, the Cardinals have righted the ship and are gearing up for what hopes to be a long run towards a section title.
“The two losses to Hawthorne really hurt our morale but we have a great group of upperclassmen who helped us get focused again,” added Rogers. “Coach has kept us motivated and our main goals are still in front of us. This was a big win for us and we want to go into the state tournament on a high note.”