WEST NORRITON — In the last two days, the Norristown boys soccer team has amassed more wins than all of last season. In beating Upper Merion on Monday afternoon, a grudge match of sorts, the Eagles earned their second conference win, matching their amount of victories in Suburban One from the past two seasons.
The comparisons between recent successes and the doom and gloom of seasons yore are needlessly ingrained in the current players' minds — an unfortunate circumstance of years of looking up from the bottom.
Eagles' coach Jared Elias, now in his second season at Norristown, aims to change the perspective of the fans, the school and the players themselves by virtue of winning games and earning that sense of accomplishment. On Monday, the Eagles stepped in the right direction in a 2-1 victory over the Upper Merion Vikings at home.
"We didn't win a league game all of last year and this was our second league win this year,' said Elias after the conclusion of the Eagles' late second half go-ahead goal. "You need to win to breed that success ... They're used to losing, and I hate losing.'
Elias said the recent history of the Eagles has shown that when the opponents go up, their heads go down.
"They have problems scoring and if we give up a goal we get sad,' Elias said.
But on Monday the Eagles were eager for victory. Fresh off a 1-0 victory over Conwell-Egan Catholic, the players were anxious for an opportunity to undo Upper Merion's victory to start the season. "Last time we played them they beat us 6-0,' said junior midfielder Joe Dellobuono. "It feels great to come back at home and get a win over them.'
"Since we lost to Upper Merion our first game, 6-0, coming out and winning the second game is really big for us,' said center-midfielder Anthony Giovinnazo.
Citing the recent loss to Wissahickon, a game in which the Eagles took a 2-1 lead early in the second half, but then allowed back-to-back goals in the 57th and 60th minute to lose 3-2, Elias emphasized the importance of holding onto early goals. Against the Vikings, the Eagles scored first on a goal by Carlos Chavez, but the Vikings returned the favor at the end of the first half. But rather than hang their heads, Norristown came back out in the second ready to control the game.
Elias recently moved Giovinnazo into the attacking center-mid position, up from the defensive midfield, and he proved to be the workhorse Norristown needed.
"I'm really just trying to win as many defensive balls as I can and find as much offensively as I can as well to get more chances,' Giovinnazo said. "I'm really just there to win some tackles and get some balls forward to get us the opportunities we need.'
With five minutes remaining, Giovinnazo struggled with the opposing midfielder for possession and pitched it out to junior Drew Baltrus streaking down the left sideline. Baltrus served a pinpoint-accurate cross to right-mid Effrain Guzman whose header found the net with the clock waning.
"It was a great ball from both of them, props to them all,' Dellobuono said. "We just battled hard today.'
To set up the goal, the Eagles narrowly dodged a bullet thanks to a heads up play by Cristian Ochoa, who defended an empty net by kicking the ball straight up over the crossbar to keep the game scoreless. His play, a high-risk high-reward stop, was the momentum change that the Eagles needed.
"I thought it was already in,' Elias said. "Probably if you had 50 of those (shots), 48 are going into the goals. That's a great play.'
"I was a little nervous when he hit it up, I thought it was going in,' Dellobuono said. "It was a great play by him.'
With the win, the Eagles improved to 2-6 in the SOL American, while Upper Merion, who started 3-0 in the conference falls to 4-4. On Thursday, Norristown will play the undefeated Cardinals at Upper Dublin.