DUXBURY — Charlie Zschau’s inswinging free kicks have been lights-out for Harwood.
The senior midfielder scored the deciding goal for the second straight match Saturday, bending a left-footed corner kick off a U-32 player and into the back of the net for a 1-0 victory — the team’s seventh shutout.
Keeper Max Hill made three saves for the Highlanders, who were already guaranteed a No. 1 seed for the upcoming Division II playoffs. Harwood (10-0-1) caps its first undefeated regular season in program history, while U-32 (8-4-2) is poised to secure the No. 3 seed in D-II.
Highlanders coach Joe Yalicki and assistant Eric Mackey were standout players when the Highlanders won their last title in 2007 as a No. 5 seed. The school’s trophy case also includes boys soccer titles from 1976, 1983, 1984 and 1987. And the Highlanders had one-loss regular seasons in 1985, 1986, 1987 and 2015.
But Harwood has never run the table like this year, outscoring opponents 40-4.
“I’ve had the same starting lineup from the first game of the season until now,” Yalicki said. “And that’s really unusual to have that consistency. I could basically see who could play and where from the get-go. We haven’t changed anything and we have our same 11.”
U-32 and Harwood entered Saturday’s contest with similar defensive mindsets and matching offensive star power. Harwood striker Will Lapointe has covered a lot of ground as a target player and has 17 goals to show for it. U-32’s Max Sabo boasts 11 goals and six assists and he’s also made big defensive contributions.
The Raiders showcased a direct style from the opening kickoff, testing Harwood’s fullbacks in ways they haven’t experienced this season. Harwood’s brand of possession soccer was suddenly disrupted, placing the Highlanders in the unique position of having to counterattack.
“I liked the way we played in the first 20 minutes,” U-32 coach Mike Noyes said. “We came out hard and we had plenty of chances. We broke them down a few times and we just weren’t able to string that last one together. But they’re a tough team. They’re good and there’s a reason they’re undefeated. I was happy with the effort today. I would have liked to see a different result, but one unlucky bounce and that’s the way it goes.”
The first half was winding down when Harwood was awarded a corner kick from the right side. Zschau was brimming with confidence after burying the game-tying goal last Wednesday against Stowe, and the same pinpoint placement led to his second goal in four days. Last year it was HU’s Jake O’Brien who got hot right before playoffs, and this season it’s Zschau.
“We worked on corners this week defensively and offensively,” Yalicki said. “And Charlie and Hayden (Adams) have just played in dangerous ball after dangerous ball. It’s only a matter of somebody getting to it. And U-32 has to defend it, so they have a guy on the post waiting. It bounced off him wrong and that’s unlucky for them. But we would still play that ball time after time and see what happens.”
Sabo and teammate Basil Humke both missed cracks at the equalizer late in the first half. At the other end, Lapointe barely missed after wedging between U-32 defenders Ben Bazis and Rowan Williams. Patrick Towne blocked a laser from Lapointe to keep things close and Williams made back-to-back clearances on the goal line in the second half.
“Rowan has been a stalwart for us in the back,” Noyes said. “He’s done a great job this year.”
Harwood’s Markus Baird and Duncan Weinman created chances to double the lead late in the action, while Williams and Bazis took turns containing Lapointe.
“We have complete faith in our center backs,” Noyes said. “Between the two of them, I thought they did a good job shutting (Lapointe) down. We didn’t have one player on him, but they did a really nice job communicating. As long as one steps, we’re happy.”
Trevor Clayton’s speed up the left gave the Highlanders some trouble at the end but Hill was never seriously tested after the break. Center fullbacks Jasper Koliba and Skyler Platt kept things tidy on defense for Harwood along with outside backs Jesse McDougall, Ely Kalkstein and Chris James.
“U-32 put their pressure on and played a lot more balls over the top,” Yalicki said. “And the defense, along with Max, did a great job of just making it easy for themselves. I like the composure and I liked that they didn’t let anybody get in behind them.”
Goalie Max Kissner made six saves for U-32, which is likely to host Montpelier (4-9-1) in the playdowns. Last Wednesday, U-32 earned a 3-1 victory over the Solons, who won three of their last five matches to secure a playoff berth. The Raiders will be ready for battle regardless of who they play, and Saturday’s clash was a good way to prepare.
“I’d much rather lose 1-0 and be tested than to lose focus in easier games and have bad habits creep up on us,” Noyes said. “We’ll see how the bracket plays out, but there’s no reason one of us can’t be there in the final — maybe both.”
The Highlanders opened the fall with one-goal victories over Peoples and Northfield-Williamstown. Midway through the season they were in complete command while scoring 25 unanswered goals. Yalicki was happy to have a pair of late tuneup matches before playoffs and also won’t be shocked to see U-32 again.
“They came out really strong,” he said. “For teams we’ve played in the second half of the year, they’re right up there in D-II. It’s definitely a team that was a good pre-playoff challenge.”