Continual pressure has a way of wearing down a defense, like water pounding against a dam wall. First small cracks begin to form, then bigger cracks and then, finally, the dam bursts.
And so it can be in soccer. The Walt Whitman-Riverhead high school girls game Thursday was a case in point.
It surely seemed only a matter of time before Whitman got the breakthrough it was looking for against a beleaguered Riverhead defense. Amazingly, the Blue Waves held off Whitman, keeping the game scoreless for nearly the entire first half.
Then the dam broke.
Ella Brower beat goalkeeper Crysten Apicello on a breakaway, set up by Kristen Finnerty at 34 minutes and 37 seconds. Whitman was off and running. The Wildcats then picked up a pair of well-deserved second-half goals from Sydney Khan for a 3-0 Suffolk County Division I win at Pulaski Sports Complex in Riverhead.
The thing is, the final score could have been worse, from Riverhead’s perspective. Much worse.
Part of that can be attributed to some bad finishing by Whitman, but Riverhead’s tireless defense, despite being under siege for practically the entire match, turned in a courageous effort. No one demonstrated that more than the busiest player on the field, Megan McIntosh. Who knows where Riverhead would be without the senior central defender?
“Amazing,” Apicello said. “She’s always amazing. I can never say a bad thing about this girl. She’s great. She does everything, basically.”
Indeed. Not only does McIntosh take most of the goal kicks and free kicks, but the Molloy College-commit is often the one cutting out trouble by reading developing plays, getting to the ball first and clearing it to safety.
Her value to the Blue Waves is unquestioned.
Riverhead coach Samba Traore said whenever McIntosh is on the field, “she’s one of the best out there.”
After the game, McIntosh was asked how she felt.
“Exhausted,” she said.
Was this a typical game for her?
“Yeah, it’s a typical game,” she said. “It’s always on our half [of the field] most of the time.”
One wondered how many goal kicks McIntosh had taken.
“Probably 30 or more,” she estimated.
That sounded about right. Whitman (2-2-2, 1-2-2) held a dominating 26-4 advantage in shots. Apicello was kept busy, making 10 saves. The defense of Marina Ronzoni, Malarie Diaz, Georgine Posillico and McIntosh was under a great deal of pressure.
“The second half we were tired because the defense was working hard,” Traore said. “Everything was on the defense.”
For all its dominance, Whitman didn’t score its second goal until 58:26 when Khan made no mistake in finding the low right corner after running onto a cutting through ball from Marissa Martino.
With 5:15 left to play, Khan struck again, sending a high shot just under the crossbar. Anna Cerrito assisted.
The game was less than three minutes old when Whitman had already taken three shots and Apicello had turned aside a header for a corner kick. It was a sign of things to come.
Riverhead (0-5, 0-5), which entered the game in last place in 28-team Division I, has been outscored, 18-1, in five games, the sole goal in its favor coming from Andrea Guerrera.
Last year the Blue Waves went 4-11-1, which was an improvement from 1-13 in 2017. “There’s always baby steps, so we just kept climbing up the ladder,” said Traore.
The Blue Waves saw Thursday’s game as a minor victory in that their defense hung tough against Whitman.
“In years past we used to lose really bad,” said McIntosh, the team’s longest-serving player, in her fifth year. “Now we’re only letting like two, three goals in a game instead of a half … I just hope that the rest of the season gets better and better.”
And the Blue Waves hope McIntosh keeps doing what she does.
Photo caption: Megan McIntosh, a senior central defender, may have been the busiest player on the field for Riverhead in its 3-0 loss to Walt Whitman. (Credit: Bob Liepa)