Concord boys’ soccer team reaches second D-I final in three years

  • Concord High junior Chea Chebo is all smiles after he scored the only goal in Concord’s 1-0 win against No. 3 Salem in Wednesday’s Division I boys’ soccer semifinals. The No. 7 Crimson Tide will face No. 9 Manchester Central in Saturday’s 7 p.m. final at SNHU.

  • Junior Liam Bennett was at the center of Concord High’s defensive effort in the Crimson Tide’s 1-0 win over No. 3 Salem in the Division I boys’ soccer semifinals on Wednesday at Stellos Stadium in Nashua. Bennett, who started for Concord’s 2015 title team, will get to play in another final when the No. 7 Tide takes on No. 9 Manchester Central at 7 p.m. on Saturday at SNHU.

Monitor staff
Thursday, November 02, 2017

NASHUA – Last year Chea Chebo missed the semifinals for disciplinary reasons. This year he was the hero.

The Concord High junior produced a screaming goal, the only one of the game, as the No. 7 Crimson Tide beat No. 3 Salem, 1-0, in Tuesday’s Division I boys’ soccer semifinals. Concord, the 2015 champ, will face No. 9 Manchester Central in Saturday’s 7 p.m. final at Southern New Hampshire University.

“Last year I didn’t get to play in the semifinals because of something that happened during school,” Chebo said. “But now I’m thankful to play in the semifinals. I redeemed myself.”

Chebo may have been the top star, but the Tide (14-4-1) displayed team-wide skill as it dominated the first half with prolonged possession. Senior midfielder Taylor Silverstein was the hub of activity, but everyone in Crimson, from the back line to the front, contributed with clean touches and smart passes.

“I liked the way we played in the first half. When we were in possession, we were confident,” Concord Coach Scott Dunlop said. “And we seemed to have a lot of time on the ball.”

All that time didn’t lead to any real chances until the last eight minutes of the opening half. And it finally turned into a goal with 3:05 on the clock when Chebo took a pass from Jonathan Weinberg and uncorked a laser from 25 yards out on the right side that swerved at the last and wound up in the left side netting.

“My coach just tells me to look up at the net and shoot, and that’s what I did, exactly,” Chebo said. “And then I just took a chance.”

“It was top notch. That was an incredible strike,” Dunlop said. “You don’t see that too often at this level, it was top quality.”

It was also a well-deserved goal for Concord, which clearly looked like the better team in the first half despite being the lower seed.

“Considering that we were the seven seed, we knew that we can play with the best and play with anyone, so we just put ourselves out there,” said junior center back Liam Bennett, who was a starter on that 2015 title team and is now the leader of the Tide’s back line.

After the lopsided first half, Salem Coach Justin Golden smartly made some tactical changes at the half. The Blue Devils (13-4-1) inserted a more offensive player, Walaeddine Hounane, into the lineup and pushed more players forward. Those adjustments, coupled with Salem’s sense of desperation, flipped the script for the first 20 minutes of the second half.

Concord held a 6-2 shot advantage in the first half, but it was the Blue Devils who had the first five shots of the second half. In the very first minute Salem’s dangerous striker, Josh Fichera, unleashed a shot from 30 yards that required a leaping save from Liam Devanny, the Tide’s outstanding keeper who needed to make just one save for a clean sheet in the first half but had to come up with four stops in the second half to keep it clean.

“Their adjustments at half were great. I complimented their coach for what he did in the second half, pushing guys forward, and they came at us with everything,” Dunlop said. “We tended to bend but we didn’t break, which was nice, but I give them a lot of credit, they deserve a lot of credit.”

After Concord weathered the storm (thanks in large part to the back line of Bennett, Josh Adams, Grant Rienstra and Danny Aybar), the Tide regained control of the game. It took Concord 15 minutes to get its first shot of the second half, but from that point on the Tide outshot the Blue Devils, 7-1. Chebo seemed sure to find his second goal when he and Silverstein were on a 2-on-1 break in the 58th minute, but Salem keeper Anthony Bellomo (five saves) made a highlight stop to keep his team in it.

The Blue Devils did have a few last-gasp attempts in the final minutes as they all crowded into the Concord end. Fichera even had the ball at his feet in the box, but Bennett came up with a clean slide tackle to clear the ball and send his team to the finals.

“Defensively we were rock solid,” Dunlop said. “It’s been the foundation of our team the entire season, and we gutted it out in the end.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341, tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)