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Concord boys’ soccer upset by Manchester Memorial in semifinals

Monitor staff
Published: 11/3/2016 12:48:19 AM

EXETER – In the last two months, the Concord boys’ soccer team has only lost twice. It just so happens that both of those defeats came against Manchester Memorial, including a 1-0 loss in Wednesday’s Division I boys’ soccer semifinal as the No. 9 Crusaders (11-7-1) upset the No. 4 Crimson Tide (14-4-1), ending Concord’s bid for back-to-back state titles.

“They’re big, they’re strong and they don’t give up,” Tide senior Adam Bryant said of Memorial. “We might have just as much skill, but they’re bigger and they’re faster, so it was hard to play our game. But I thought we did a pretty god job and got a lot of chances, but it just came down to that one play at the beginning. I think it was sort of unlucky.”

The game’s only goal came in just the third minute. Memorial’s Mbambi Mbungu muscled his way down the left side and sent a cross into the box that went into a crowd before squirting free and dribbling into the Concord goal. Richard Medina was credited with the score.

“We wanted to attack on the outside and we got the goal from the outside,” Memorial Coach Chris Florek said. “The goal came early, which was good, and then we stayed organized on defense which was the plan all along.”

The early goal hurt, but it didn’t defeat the Tide.

“We actually didn’t let it impact us that much. We came out super strong after that,” Bryant said. “They thought we were going to have our heads down, and it was a crappy way to start, but we came right back at that them and had the next four chances. So I’m proud of the way we responded to the goal.”

With midfielders Taylor Silverstein and Ngongo Mungeta pulling the strings, the Tide put several menacing balls in the box in the middle of the first half. Concord also created a shot at an open net from 20 yards out that sailed just wide and an opportunity right on Memorial’s doorstep with Grant Rienstra crashing the post, but the final touch proved elusive.

Despite trailing by a goal at halftime, the Tide was confident.

“We didn’t make any changes at halftime. We just wanted the guys to keep playing the way they were playing,” Concord Coach Scott Dunlop said. “They were playing consistently and they were getting chances and creating.”

The Crusaders saw the same thing.

“We were playing on our back foot a little bit going into the half,” Florek said. “And at halftime we talked about we had to start attacking the width more. We had gotten away from what got us the goal. We tried to do that in the second half more and at times it worked.”

That time was the first 15 minutes of the second stanza. Memorial didn’t generate any true scoring chances against the Tide defense – anchored by center back Liam Bennett and keeper Liam Devanny, both sophomores - but the Crusaders kept the ball in Concord’s end.

That dynamic changed in the middle of the second half and from the 65th minute to the 55th minute the Tide generated three corner kicks and two shots, but it couldn’t find a goal. The closest Concord came was in the 59th minute when Memorial keeper Connor Page made a diving stop on shot from Mungeta.

The Tide kept pressing after that, but it was relying on long balls to unlock the Memorial defense and the Crusaders weren’t having it. When something did slip through, Page made the right choices on when to come out and when to stay in.

“Connor did a nice job,” Florek said of his keeper. “The balls over the top he came out on and when the defense wasn’t organized, he saved them.”

Memorial will now play No. 6 Exeter (14-5-0) in Saturday’s 7 p.m. final. The Blue Hawks upset No. 2 Timberlane, 1-0, in double overtime in the first semifinal.

“We made shirts up at the beginning of the year that said ‘Believe,’ because we thought the only ones who really believed we could make the finals was us,” Florek said. “We knew we had the talent, but it’s a matter of executing all the time … we had some hiccups, but we’re playing well now, we’re playing our best soccer now, so that’s the key.”

Of course Concord wanted a chance to defend its title in the final, but reaching the semifinals for the seventh time in 11 years is reason to be proud.

“Tremendous season. These guys were great. They trained and played the same way every day. They gave 100 percent in practice and did that in games, too,” Dunlop said. “We’re young, we only have five seniors (Bryant, Mungeta, Ethan Dupre, Noah Wachter and Brian Defranzo), and they gave everything to this squad. I’m very pleased with the entire team.”

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