By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
The disappointment was apparent as the final whistle blew Tuesday afternoon and the Bishop Ireton boys soccer team was held to a 2-2 tie at home against local rivals St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes, even as the Cardinals maintained their unbeaten start to the season.
Ireton had at one stage been up 2-0 thanks to a superb individual goal from senior forward Joey Faddoul in the first half and a second-half penalty from the same player after teammate George Mereu was brought down in the penalty area. However, they were pulled back in the space of three minutes by the Saints, who saw Logan Akey and then Tyler Smith slot home to get a share of the spoils.
And while the Cardinals maintain their unbeaten streak — 3-0-2 at the time of writing with an away game at Washington International School on Wednesday afternoon after the Times’ print deadline — they tried to keep a brave face amid the disappointment of settling for a draw.
“[The result] is not the end all and be all,” said assistant coach Zach Bass, standing in for suspended head coach Jon Norem, who was ejected last time out. “It would have been great to get that win being a [Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association] game and a local rivalry. They’re good players; they just have to accept that they’re good players.”
During the game, the Cardinals looked strong at the back against a Saints team that looked to attack in warm conditions. Ireton’s sophomore goalkeeper Garrett Haugh made several good saves, but there were moments when the bounce of the ball or a slight error nearly let their opponents in for another opportunity. Bass said it is something that starts with the midfield, and that they must work hard alongside their teammates in defense to minimize mistakes.
“Our guys in the back do such a good job, and I think to give them a break is just getting our midfield a little more pressure on the ball so they’re not having to defend for 80 minutes because that’s not fair to them,” he said. “They’re pretty stout in the back, but it’s really about trying to clog up the center for teams and not let them get those little balls that squirt through.”
Up front, while Faddoul had two goals, the Cardinals had several more chances to put the game out of reach but could not take them. Bass said with continued hard work on the training field, the confidence of putting the ball in the net will follow. He is adamant they have the character to succeed.
“Seeing these guys, they’re a really good group of kids,” Bass said. “They’re really good-hearted kids that will work hard for one another, and some of the guys as they’re gotten older we see their leadership roles and they’re wanting to take on a little bit more and step up.”
Even after the disappointment of giving up a two-goal lead to one of their big local rivals, Bass said that Ireton needs to keep believing in themselves and their abilities, especially after such a strong showing in the 2014 season when they reached the semifinals of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference tournament and the second round of the VISAA state tournament.
Bass said his players just need to raise their expectations and the goals will come.
“They’re technically good players, they work for one another and they’re capable of doing even better than what we did last year if they want,” Bass said.
Having lost in the WCAC semifinals to DeMatha and to Paul VI in the state tournament last season, the Cardinals’ next challenge is to try and better those postseason performances. With their unbeaten record still intact and a strong schedule this year, Bass believes they are not far away from competing with the very best in the region.
“I think the WCAC is a lot more wide open than maybe it’s ever been and if you show up on any given day you can really progress further in that tournament,” he said. “Then against another VISAA team, Flint Hill last week [a 1-1 tie], I don’t think you would say there was too much difference in either of us. It’s all on those guys working hard.”