Without question, the Fayetteville-Manlius boys soccer team was worthy of a championship in 2016, given the way it played against its slate of opponents – with one glaring exception.
Over the course of three months and three different meetings, the Hornets tried to solve the defensive riddle of Liverpool, and never did so, including Tuesday night’s Section III Class AA final at Baldwinsville’s Pelcher-Arcaro Stadium where F-M fell 1-0 to the Warriors, who won its first sectional title since 2003.
Of all the possible opponents the top-seeded hornets could have drawn for the sectional final, Liverpool was the toughest, Twice, these teams met in the regular season, and F-M didn’t score a goal on either occasion, Liverpool earning a 0-0 draw in late September at Swan Pond and prevailing 1-0 in the Oct. 13 rematch at LHS Stadium.
Thus, the Hornets’ primary objective was to get on the board at least once, preferably at an early point in the game, and proceed from there.
Again, Liverpool, and its defense, made that impossible. Through the game’s first 30 minutes, F-M had most of the possession time and a majority of the scoring chance, and they all got turned back.
The Warriors’ attacks were more infrequent, but in the process they did find gaps that could get exploited at other times – such as in the 31st minute. From midfield, A.J. Sinclair lobbed a long pass to Marquis Wright on the right wing. From 20 yards out, and at a tough angle, Wright lobbed a shot past a charging Mike Baril that crashed into the net and put Liverpool in front.
Trailing again to the Warriors, F-M pushed hard until intermission, with Josh Mahr hitting a hard shot inches wide in the final minute. Again, Liverpool had the edge, and 40 more minutes to hang on to it.
By now, though, the Warriors had mastered its defensive approach. Whenever F-M had the ball in Liverpool’s end, it would have to navigate through two lines of resistance of varying size and shape.
The constant presences, though, included Munski, Austin Aiello and Amko Salihovic, along with Sinclair, whose constant marking of players like Mahr drew wide praise from his teammates.
Midway through the second half, Baril had a sliding stop to rob Sinclair of an insurance goal, and from there, the Hornets’ pressure picked up in the homestretch, testing Liverpool’s back line once more.
But just like they did in September, and again in October, the Warriors, on this first night of November, turned everything back, getting a third shutout in as many months – and a long-awaited sectional title.
F-M, meanwhile, faced the abrupt end of a 15-3-1 season where it went 14-1 against every opponent not named Liverpool.
Yet while Mahr, Baril, Max Staniec, Seth Epling and Joe Falcone depart, having back the likes of Hunter Knutsen, Alex Bychkov, Ryan Varley, Nate Donella, Riley Burke, Nolan Chiles, Grant Olick-Sutphen and Steve Olick-Sutphen will mean the Hornets will stay strong in 2017, by which point it might solve the Liverpool defensive riddle.