Andover Central’s boys soccer team predictably sits atop the AV-CTL Div. II standings. But they’ve got company, and the other team that owns a share of the top spot has high hopes when Andover Central arrives for a match up Thursday night.
“Honestly, I’ll be really disappointed if we lose. We’ve scouted them,” first-year Eisenhower coach Roger Downing said. “We’ll be well prepared for them. It’s going to be a fun game, and we’re going to get them.”
The Eisenhower boys soccer team has never been in a position for such confidence because they’ve never experienced such success. The Tigers enter Thursday’s game with an 11-1 record and undefeated at 3-0 in league play, with a new coach and new style of play that has the team in the middle of the best season the program has ever posted.
Though success was expected with the hiring of Downing, the wins weren’t supposed to add up this quickly.
“When I got the job I was told it was a rebuilding year,” Downing said. “Honestly, after a couple of open fields, I knew right away we were going to be good.”
Downing made some changes to the team’s approach, emphasizing possession and patience.
A win Thursday night would be the biggest accomplishment yet. Andover Central (11-0, 3-0) is still the team to beat. The Jaguars are loaded with 11 seniors, have scored 43 goals and allowed just 6.
“I see ourselves as underdogs,” Eisenhower leading scorer Kwame Parry said. “But don’t underestimate us. You’ve got to come watch us play.”
Parry has been a reliable offensive threat all season, though he was held scoreless for most of the game Tuesday night at Maize South. Eisenhower’s undefeated record in league play appeared in trouble as they trailed 2-0 with 15 minutes left.
Downing stood on the sideline and watched his team chase the ball and stray from the game plan.
“With a new group of kids you have to let them fail on their own, so the first half I knew we were going to get up and down with them and that’s not what I want to do,” Downing said. “I know we can’t play like that.”
But Parry came alive in the game’s final minutes. He scored twice in a 13-minute span, tying the score with 2:40 left in regulation. In overtime, Parry converted a turnover into the game-winning goal with a chip over the keeper.
“It was a scary game,” Parry said. “But we’ve been playing as a team. We have chemistry and a great coach, and that means we’re winning. Don’t give up. Never give up.”
Though Downing admitted after the overtime win there’s room for improvement, he said Parry’s late-game heroics weren’t a surprise.
“He’s been banged up the past three or four games, so he hasn’t put up the numbers. But the kids almost got 20 goals and 20 assists on the season so I’m not that surprised at all,” he said. “You can prepare for him all you want – they were throwing two or three guys at him – but we moved him around a bunch up top. And he’s not the only kid I’ve got. I’ve got a whole group of kids behind him who can play.”
Thursday’s showdown between the top two teams in the AV-CTL Div. II standings begins at 6:30 p.m. at Eisenhower.