MKA junior Ally Raff battles with a pair of Glen Ridge defenders during a physical game on Friday, October 5. The Cougars would go on to win, 2-1.

by Andrew Garda

Glen Ridge—In a game with massive implications for Essex County Tournament seedings, the Montclair Kimberley Academy girls soccer team overcame a physical Glen Ridge team, 2-1, on Friday, Oct. 6.

That gave the Cougars a 9-2-1 record, and a 5-0 record as of the weekend. Which, in turn, should translate to a solid seed in the tournament and perhaps a bye in the first round.

Even with a tough schedule ahead — aside from West Orange, the team faces West Essex of one of their last four regular season games — very few teams will physically challenge the Cougars the way Glen Ridge did on Friday.

From the opening moments of the game, the Ridgers showed they weren’t shy about colliding with MKA players, relentlessly attacking anyone with the ball and not backing off when a ball rolled free. Many slide tackles, body-on-body collisions and a fair amount of jersey pulling happened on both sides, as the Cougars tried to adjust to the Glen Ridge style of play.

In order to do that, though, MKA moved away from their normal style of play, one that’s based on ball possession and movement. Often the Cougars seemed to rush their passes, not taking time they had available to them and instead sending the ball downfield with no real plan.

“Both teams were kind of just launching balls forward and kind of hoping for things,” said MKA head coach Christie Welsh.

The Cougars got on the board first with a flukey goal on a corner kick by senior Dani Golden. Golden took the kick, sending it right where Glen Ridge keeper Victoria Woznick and a defender were standing at the forward goal. Somehow the ball squirted between the two, glancing off a foot and into the net right inside the post.

It was an improbable goal, but one the Cougars were happy to accept.

They’d need it too, as Glen Ridge continued to push the ball down the field and attack the Cougars goal and sophomore Arianna Jobst, who would end the day with 12 saves.

Glen Ridge was finally able to get one past Jobst, tying the game a little before halftime.

Welsh knew she needed to make adjustments.

“I thought that during the first half we were good, we had possession but then about half way through we lost it and the game was a mess for the last [part] of the first half.”

Welsh needed her team to get back to their usual style of play. The Cougars couldn’t match the size and physicality of the Glen Ridge players, and that style of play isn’t what MKA does best.

“We talked at halftime about getting possession back and getting better 50-50 and second balls,” Welsh said. “And I think we went out in the second half and did that.”

The Cougars did come out in the second half more focused on possessing the ball and not just sending it downfield. While they were still prone to not taking their time and choosing where the ball should go, they were more effective in their ball handling and in setting up their shots.

Cougars senior forward Kerri McGuire moves the ball downfield during MKA’s 2-1 win. McGuire would send in the winning goal late in the second half.

Whereas during the first half, MKA would fire off a shot as soon as they got within range of the Glen Ridge net, during the second half they were more meticulous in their crosses. That resulted in better scoring chances, including a beautiful header into the net by senior Kerri McGuire off a penalty shot from sophomore Alexis Riley.

“At the time I wasn’t even concentrating on who would get on the end of it,” Welsh said. “I was just trying to get the team to orchestrate it. I’d been talking a lot to our girls about going short and pulling them [opposing teams] out [of the box] a little bit.

“The second you make that pass, it disrupts the second line … and allows for somebody to get through.”

Riley’s shot did just that, going over the heads of some defenders, past where the goalkeeper was to find McGuire all by herself near the far post.

“Kerri’s great in the air. And it was a fantastic, great goal,” Welsh said. McGuire has now scored nine goals for the Cougars this season, along with a pair of assists. “They’ve been crucial for us.”

While Glen Ridge continued to push, the Cougars played keep away and drained the clock, continually taking the ball to the far corner in Glen Ridge’s end and making the Ridgers knock it out of bounds.

Meanwhile, Jobst came up with one more huge save, tipping a ball over the crossbar to preserve the lead and win.

“She came up clutch,” Welsh said of Jobst. “Her own worst enemy is her own head. The sky’s the limit with Arianna and she just needs to keep training and keep positive about stuff.”

Welsh said each game has provided very different challenges but the team has risen to the occasion.

Welsh will need them to continue doing so as the Cougars head into the county and state tournaments this month.