EAST WHITELAND - One of the best stories in the area so far this season in high school boys soccer has without a doubt been the play of Great Valley.
The Patriots came into their Ches-Mont League match against Unionville sporting a perfect 10-0 overall record, with a total of just two goals allowed up to that point all season.
Great Valley remained undefeated on Tuesday night, thanks to a thrilling 2-1 victory over a visiting Indians squad who gave them all they could handle and more in a key American Division match.
With the game tied 1-1 late in regulation and appeared headed for overtime, the Patriots got the game-winning goal from senior forward Luis Benitez-Palermo with 1:54 remaining on the clock.
The dramatic goal was assisted by junior midfielder Kyle Hoops, who made a great pass to set it up as he found Benitez-Palermo in space about 25 yards out. Benitez-Palermo took advantage of the opportunity, unleashing a sensational left-footed shot that was a thing of beauty as it floated through the air, eventually bending its way into the top left corner of the net.
Unionville goalie Henry Shafer (four saves) had practically no chance of stopping the shot as the Patriots moved to 11-0 overall and 8-0 in the Ches-Mont League.
"Their goalie played really well all game, and Unionville has a very tough defense,' said Benitez-Palermo. "But when I saw the ball curve the way I had hoped I knew he wasn't going to be able to get it.
"Kyle made such a good pass and I knew I had a chance for the game-winner. All I tried to do was get it on goal and bend it.'
It was a frustrating loss for Unionville (5-2-1 American, 6-3-2 overall). Only because on one hand they played arguably their best of match of the season, and had their opportunities to pull off the upset, before eventually coming up just short.
The Indians fell behind 1-0 right from the start basically, as Great Valley's Jack Hajnik scored a little over three minutes into the match.
From that point, Unionville played very tough soccer.
Early in the second half, they drew even. Andrew Chegia's goal with 34:08 remaining in the game tied the score at 1-1.
Later on, with 9:50 left, Unionville's Sam Alfonsi had a golden chance to give the Indians the lead when he broke free on a breakaway. He was absolutely robbed on his shot, however, by Great Valley goalie Jon Fuydal (eight saves).
"Unionville had all the momentum after tying the match. You could see it shift from that point,' said Great Valley coach Dave Moffett. "That save by Jon was absolutely huge. It deflated Unionville and it kicked us into gear.
"Once that happened we caught the momentum. This was your classic Great Valley/Unionville game. It's become a big rivalry and you always know both teams are going to raise their level of play.'
Unionville had some other chances as well. Early in the opening half, with 28:17 on the clock, Peter Ferraro was taken down in the box. It appeared to be from behind. However, no penalty kick was called.
Even in defeat, Indians coach Rich Garber was proud of the way his team fought against one of the top teams in District 1.
"I'm extremely happy. We hung in their and played really well,' Garber said. "At times we got a little flustered, but overall we stayed the course.
"We score on that breakaway late in the game and it might've been a different story. Their goalie made an outstanding save, though. All I know is that if we keep playing like we did tonight the rest of the season, we're going to be just fine.'
The win was enormous, meanwhile, for a Great Valley side that has been playing unbelievable soccer all spring. It put them one step closer to capturing the Ches-Mont League American Division title, and also kept them on pace to win the overall Ches-Mont crown. The Patriots' last league title came back in 2005.
"Our goal is to just keep getting those three points game in and game out,' said Moffett. "We're as focused of a team as I've ever had here. The kids are well aware of the pitfalls of looking ahead. All they are concerned with is getting better each and every day.
"They are a very experienced group. We had a great team last year and lost a heartbreaker in districts. Ever since then this group has been extremely focused.'
Great Valley expected to have its hands full against Unionville, and when the visiting Indians tied the game late they knew they had to respond. And they did a heck of a job doing exactly that with the game and their undefeated season on the line.
"We were a little worried at that point,' said Benitez-Palermo. "It's always a battle against Unionville, and coming in we knew this was going to be one of our toughest games.
"It turned out to be the toughest game we've had all year. But we never put our heads down. We stayed focused, and were able to come away with a big win.'
Great Valley 2, Unionville 1
Unionville 0 1 -- 1
Great Valley 1 1 -- 2
Unionville goal: Chegia.
Great Valley goals: Hajnik, Benitez-Palermo.
Goalie saves: Shafer (U) 4; Fuydal (GV) 8.