More often than not, a coach's offensive soccer strategy is to dominate field position through ball control from a short and accurate passing game.
This was not so Thursday as the Jim Thorpe boys' team used the long kick to defeat Tamaqua, 5-3 in league play.
"We definitely stressed to our defense and midfielders to kick the ball high and as far as they could," said Olympian coach Tony Dixon. "We feel that many of our boys have strong legs and with our overall speed, we can get after it, too."
The game plan worked perfectly for Thorpe (4-6-1, 3-3-1) in the first half en route to 4-1 lead at the intermission. With six minutes gone by, senior Stevie Principe converted a pass from Anthony Pavia with a left-footed kick into the right corner to give the Olympians the early advantage. Then eight minutes later, JT senior defenseman Billy Sterling temporarily avoided the game plan when he rushed from the midfield mark through several Raider players with excellent ball control and blasted an unassisted goal into the top of the net for a two-goal lead.
Tamaqua's only two seniors combined for a score when Stephen Billet finished a quick pass from Roberto Borrero and shot the ball into the left corner of the Olympian goal at the 25:19 mark. Any momentum for the Raiders (3-8, 3-4) was short-lived when just 16 seconds later, Principe took a long kick over the Raiders from senior defenseman Brock Lehner and scored his second goal. With 10:30 to go in the half, Thorpe's Caleb Heller's airborne boot found Pavia's head and caromed over the leaping Raider goalie to give his team a commanding 4-1 lead at the break.
"Sixty percent of our team are underclassmen," said Dixon, "but today all seven of our seniors had a role in our win."
Down by three, Tamaqua coach Ian Blyth tried a little reverse psychology in his halftime speech.
"I really said nothing to them strategically. We have one senior and 12 freshmen on our varsity team. I simply said, 'decide if you want to get it together and play anymore.'"
Before Blyth could see if his squad would come around, JT's Heller boomed a kick from midfield off Raider goalie Dylan Rynkiewicz's outstretched hands and into the back of the net with only 50 seconds gone in the second half.
Now down by four, the young Raiders dominated field possession for the next ten minutes until Billet scored again on a feed from Ben Miller.
Thorpe's Principe tried valiantly to get the hat trick, but was denied on four outstanding saves by Rynkiewicz. A little later, Principe rolled his ankle and had to leave the game for the final eight minutes.
Tamaqua scored its third goal with sixteen seconds left on a header by freshman, Tyler Hollenbach.
"I'm glad we decided to play the second half," said Blyth. "We are learning on the job, but it all starts with matching the hustle of our opponent, and they definitely outhustled us for much of the game.
"We got sloppy on defense in the second half and let them back in it," said Dixon. " We have to be more consistent in marking the man and not following the ball. Overall, with a tie against Pottsville and a win over Pine Grove, we have some momentum going into the game against Lehighton on Saturday."