Two experienced and talented boys’ soccer programs faced off on Monday in a non league tilt. The Archbishop Ryan Raiders went up the pike a bit and hit the pitch against the Firebirds of Holy Ghost Prep, their near northern neighbor.
The Raiders, representing the Philadelphia Catholic League, and the Firebirds, from the big school Independence division of the Bicentennial, have a familiarity with each other, even though they can only meet these days in the PIAA states or in a “friendly” as they did Monday.
It certainly didn’t resemble anything friendly as the two squads went at it tooth and nail in a physical contest throughout. Early on, the officials let them go a little, but when the rough play accelerated, both teams suffered a slew of first half fouls…ten to the visitors and nine to the home team. However, none of these free kicks resulted in any scoring.
The Firebirds were able to grab a quick 2-0 lead. The first score came from a corner, well placed by junior midfielder Ethan Ruppersberger, to the head of teammate Connor Fife, a senior forward/mid, at the 35:24 mark.
The second goal was very similar. A corner sent from Ruppersberger to the head of Nkosi Graham, a junior forward/mid, was a near instant replay of the first goal. Interestingly, these were the only two shots on goal by the home team in the first half.
The visitors were able to get off four shots on goal in that half, but were left with no scores. After some adjustments by Coach Ryan Haney, the Raiders came out quickly and severed the deficit by half with a goal at 32:58, putting them right back in this tough matchup. The goal was scored by Will Stackhouse.
Six more “shot on goal” opportunities yielded no additional scores as Ghost goalkeeper TJ Butler, just a sophomore, was able to hold his own against a spirited attack by the skilled offense of their NE Philly rivals.
The final goal of the game made it 3-1 for Ghost as another head shot was placed just past Ryan keeper Bryce Fedako, also a sophomore. The goal was scored by Sean O’Hara, a senior defender, from a nicely positioned cross fired by the aforementioned Nkosi Graham, who was very active the entire game.
Holy Ghost got to the District 1 finals last year, but was eliminated early in the states. Coach Ken Lawson (a ’92 grad of HGP) has nine seniors with a lot of game experience under their belts. He is looking to get them a step or two further this year.
Ryan coach Haney, in his second year as the boys’ coach after 11 very successful years as the girls’ coach, is looking to improve as the season goes along. He has a young but very skilled and athletic squad, and is hoping to get through the extremely tough PCL season with a winning record and an opportunity for a home playoff game.