MANCHESTER, N.H. – One win down, three to go.
The Manchester Central boys’ soccer team escaped the first round of the NHIAA Division I Boys Soccer Tournament, defeating the Blue Devils of Salem at Gill Stadium on on Wednesday night, 4-2.
Central took early goals from Rahul Drupka in the 15th minute and Jahir Garcia in the 25th minute, with Salem unable to equalize until Nicholas Fili found a rebound and transformed it into a goal 57th minute.
Fili’s goal provided the visitors some momentum, but the Little Green put the margin back at two goals thanks to a penalty kick score from Sam Latona in the 65th minute.
Salem’s John Gouthro made the most of a crowded goal crease in the 73rd minute to bring the game back within one score, but Drupka answered just a minute later to seal the victory for Central.
“I’m proud of the guys, we played hard the entire 80 minutes,” said Salem Head Coach Matt Persell. “A couple of things didn’t go our way. If a couple of things did go our way, it could have gone differently, but it’s always difficult to come into their place and play.”
Central Head Coach Chad LaBerge felt confident that his team would win despite the surge of Salem chances in the second half, citing the fact that his squad scored at least four goals in 11 of their 16 regular season contests.
However, he was concerned with the physicality of the contest, preventing his squad from playing the flowing pass-heavy style that it prefers.
“We’re not a big physical team, so anybody can do that will make it a game like tonight, “Our goal is to not be out-physicalled, that seems to be the blueprint for beating Central: a lot of direct kicks and set pieces and make it a physical contest and we’ll try to connect five or six passes and make chances while our opponents will seek to counter on our mistakes.”
Next up is Timberlane, with the two teams meeting at Gill on Saturday at 2 p.m. Timberlane defeated Merrimack 2-1 on a golden goal earlier on Wednesday and lost to Central 4-2 in the final game of the regular season.
Here’s a grid look at what’s next for Manchester’s other high school teams.