MANCHESTER, NH – With four Division I State Title game appearances in the past decade, the coaching staff of the Manchester Central boys soccer team knows what a championship performance looks like.
Head Coach Chris LaBerge was quick to admit that was not what he saw in his club’s 3-1 win over Exeter High (6-5-1), Tuesday night at Gill Stadium.
The Little Green (10-1-1) got goals from Jahir Garcia, Gershom Matimano and Estaban Henao, to run their unbeaten streak to seven games. But it was carelessness with the ball, mental errors and missed defensive assignments that had LaBerge not mincing his words after the final whistle.
“This was our worst performance of the year,” said LaBerge. “I mean, I’m glad we got the win. But we were sloppy and made uncharacteristic mistakes with passes. I’m not sure what it was that was the problem.”
Part of the “problem” was a solid effort turned in by a game Exeter squad. The Blue Hawks gave their hosts all they could handle, trailing just 1-0 at halftime and pulling to within 2-1 on a goal by junior striker Sam Henry in the 61st minute. Henry got control of an entry pass from senior Parker Lendrum, drew the ball away from a defender and to his left foot, then ripped a shot from 10 yards away. His shot was so hard, it ripped through the save attempt of Central keeper David Hood and trickled over the goal line to make it 2-1.
With momentum clearly on their side, the Blue Hawks pressed the attack and nearly tied the game three minutes later when Henry’s shot off the outside of his left foot from about 10 yards away just missed slipping into the corner of the goal.
Moments later, Central would put the game away. Exeter keeper Johnny Meyer (eight saves) made a brilliant stop on a bid from point-blank by Matimano. But he couldn’t control the rebound. Henao was there to drill the loose ball into the back of the net, making it 3-1 with 13:37 to play.
Central took the early lead in this one, courtesy of a goal from Jahir Garcia. It remained 1-0 into the second half, as both teams squandered scoring chances.
Junior Mawette’s crossing pass set up Matimano, who was stoned by Meyer.
At the other end of the pitch, a perfectly timed cross by Henry, put the ball on the foot of midfielder Owen Williams, staring at a wide-open net.
But before Williams could slam it home, Central’s Prince Ojha came flying in from out of nowhere to block the shot and preserve the lead.
“They had some chances that they missed, we had some chances that we missed,” said LaBerge. “It wasn’t the type of marquee Central-Exeter game people are used to seeing.”
Moments later, in the 59th minute, Central for some breathing room (albeit short-lived) when Matimano went high in the air on a perfect cross from Henao, and headed the ball past Meyer to make it 2-0.
With the win, Manchester Central solidified its position in second place in the Division I standings, just behind Nashua South (11-0-1). The Little Green will be back in action Thursday, when they travel to Derry to take on Pinkerton Academy.