Pictured: Morgan and Old Saybrook will play for the Shoreline championship on Friday (6pm) at Portland High. The teams were Shoreline co-champions in 2019.
By Danny Atkinson
DEEP RIVER — All season long, the Morgan and Valley Regional boys soccer teams fought to demonstrate who was the No. 2 squad in the Shoreline Conference behind Old Saybrook. The rivals each won 1-0 at the other team’s field, and a hot streak at the end of the season earned Valley the second seed and a bye in the conference tournament.
After the two September contests, it made sense to expect another close game between Morgan and the Warriors in the Shoreline semifinals.
Instead, the Huskies grabbed the lead and took control near the end of the first half. They then overwhelmed Valley early in the second half, scoring three goals in the opening 20 minutes and going on to win 5-1.
Senior Sebastian Kadlof was the star of the game, scoring twice for Morgan (13-2-3). Jake McKenna had the lone goal for the Warriors (11-5-1) in the first half.
With top-seeded Old Saybrook defeating Portland 3-0 at the same time, the Huskies will get a third shot at taking down the unbeaten Rams (15-0-2) in the Shoreline championship game on Friday (6pm, Portland High) after the teams tied twice.
“In the first 20 minutes of the game, both teams were out for one another,” said Kadlof. “Once the game cooled down in the second 20 minutes, we found our calm and started moving the ball better and finding options. We were stronger mentally.”
After a fast-paced and physical opening 20 minutes, Kadlof kicked off the scoring with 17:20 left in the first half. He crossed over a defender before beating goalie Ian Silva to the left. McKenna answered less than a minute later, outrunning the defense and beating keeper Bailey Goss to his right.
Morgan shook off Valley’s response and quickly took control of the game for the remainder of the half, which it would never relinquish. On defense, the Huskies consistently crowded the Warriors’ ball-handlers and limited their possession time. On offense, Morgan was beating Valley downfield and moving the ball efficiently. It paid off with a long goal by Jacob Bardinelli with 9:47 remaining.
The Huskies entered halftime with a 2-1 lead and all the momentum.
“I think our players just calmed down near the end of the half and just started playing the game,” Morgan coach Ross Demay said. “The field was a little beat up both ways and I think we took advantage of that and it led to goals.”
The opening few minutes of the second half continued to be physical, with the Huskies demonstrating stronger athleticism and fundamentals than their counterparts. The Warriors defense constantly seemed to be on its heels and being beat downfield. Its offense rarely had possession for long periods, and Morgan’s defenders regularly deflected key passes and shots. This all resulted in three goals for Morgan in a span of less than 13 minutes.
Kadlof struck first at the 32:19 mark on a breakaway, sneaking the ball into the right corner of the net. Just under seven minutes later, Steven Kinser fired a shot in over Silva to make it 4-1. Joe Morse capped the scoring with 19:50 remaining by laying the ball in off of a blocked shot. Several open shots by Valley during this stretch and after were wide of or over the net.
Demay also attributed the impressive win to having his full roster healthy and the work of his defense, which has been one of the best in the state all season.
“Our defense is the best in the league and is what’s gotten us here,” he said. “Most of our better players are defenders who are stepping up on offense, and I’m glad it all clicked tonight.”
Valley coach Mick Fearon credited Morgan’s midfielders for their strong play. In the second half, Fearon said Morgan was able to put balls in beyond its defense and took advantage of most of its opportunities. On offense, he said the Warriors were unable to control the central midfield.
“They really didn’t give us any time to recover when any second balls got free,” Fearon said.
It was clear afterward how excited Kadlof is to have a shot at winning the Shoreline championship, a goal the team had coming into the season.
“I was really nervous coming into the game because they have some game-changers. It feels really good getting to the finals,” he said. “Getting some rest before the final will be good, and if we’re ready mentally and physically the game can be in our hands.”
Demay said defense will again be the key to winning the title against Old Saybrook and the Huskies cannot let the Rams run them into the ground. He will be looking for his offense to maintain its same quality of play for 80 minutes on Friday.
Morgan and Old Saybrook were Shoreline co-champions in 2019.