NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ--For the first time in two seasons, the New Brunswick High School (NBHS) boys soccer team lost two consecutive games.
Each of the losses were by a narrow margin, by just one goal. The Zebras lost to Monroe 3-2 in their final regular season game, and then dropped another contest to the Metuchen Bulldogs by a score of 2-1 in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Tournament.
For Metuchen, it was redemption of a 5-1 loss suffered at the hands of the Zebras in last season's GMC tournament.
The Bulldogs came out ready to play aggressive and not back down. Meanwhile the Zebras, after playing some of their best soccer of the season against Monroe, did not appear to have the same hunger and passion we're used to from them.
Metuchen struck first blood in the 13th minute after a corner kick was sent inside the box.
Goalkeeper Dalber Inostroza was there to punch it out. However, standing 18 yards from the goal, Kyle Harry caught the ball in the air and volleyed it home with a hard strike, putting Metuchen up 1-0.
"Well, beginning right out of the gate, we knew this team was going to be very good," said Harry. "We played them last year, we didn't get a very good result. So we knew we would have to play our game, play tough and be locked down on defense to even have a chance."
In the 25th minute, the Zebras' Felix Rojas sent in a cross from the left flank over to Homer Melendez. With little pressure, Melendez gently headed the ball past the goalkeeper Alex Brooks to cradle it into the net, tying the match at 1-1.
The Zebras had a hard time getting the ball to midfielders Kelvin Ortiz and William Rojas. However, they had plenty of opportunities from crosses.
Appearing to have a backline of five defenders at times, the Bulldogs looked to shoot the ball up field on counterattacks while focusing on their defense. This strategy earned them many corner kicks, a weakness for the Zebras.
In the second half, both teams utilized the flanks in open space. There was a great deal of back and forth action, as neither team was able to string passes together.
Brooks commented," I feel like it was all in the first 15 minutes. We talked about that at the beginning of the game...I was surprised, I didn't really expect to be here, but I saw it developing."
With five minutes left, the Bulldogs caught the Zebras trying to make a surge on offense.
This allowed the speedy Avi Hogan-Appell to get a long pass from midfield. Before he was taken down, he had a sliver of time to send a long shot past the keeper for the game winner.
"I'm just speechless right now," said Hogan-Appell. "It's so exhilarating, I'm happy that I got off that goal and to give us the win. Like Kyle said, we played them last year and we knew we would have to play them hard to beat them and we did that."
The last few minutes were chaotic. As Metuchen wanted to hold on to their lead, the Zebras applied lots of pressure and were getting inside the box. Two penalty kicks could have arguably been called amid all the commotion.
The best opportunity came from William Rojas with two minutes left. With open space about six yards out he blasted a shot which bounced off the front of the crossbar.
Harry added, "This year it's all about the team work. We're a much closer knit group of guys. Hangout at least twice a week, go to Quaker Stake and Lube once a week at least. So we're all together, our motto is family."
Zebras will now try and make a run in this year's Central Group 4 state playoffs. Ranked at No. 7 they will host No. 10 Old Bridge in the first round on Oct. 31 at 6 p.m.