Dave Abarbanel said his team changed formations to have three attackers up top around two to three weeks ago.
The mission — to create more scoring opportunities and press opposing defenses.
Less than five minutes into Thursday night’s Class 2A West Region Section 1 quarterfinal against Winters Mill, the decision paid off.
Anthony Goad’s pressure on Falcons goalkeeper Josh Kappes forced a turnover in the box, and the senior forward buried his shot to give Liberty an early lead.
Goad finished with two goals and his efforts lifted the Lions to a 2-0 victory in their playoff opener.
Scoring against one of Carroll County’s top keepers is never an easy feat, and Goad said he didn’t expect to have such a wide open net in front of him.
“I just took what was in front of me,” he said.
Led by Goad, the Lions (6-6-2) provided a high-pressure attack in the first half, sending attackers on long passes and looking for open lanes on goal.
Liberty outshot Winters Mill 16-11.
Due to the Falcons’ increased attacking efforts, Liberty saw scoring opportunities in the second half and Goad buried his second goal with 29:02 remaining off a crossing pass from Chimwemwe Chikuyu.
“[Anthony] really come a long way this year,” said Abarbanel. “He’s been banged up a bit, he’s finally getting healthy and I think he really showed what he brings to the table tonight.”
Liberty got its revenge following a 3-2 overtime loss to Winters Mill in late September. The Lions suffered the defeat off in part because of two own goals.
Goalie Justin Ricketts tallied seven saves and the defensive backline held stout this time around to secure the shutout Thursday, but not without help from a little woodwork.
Winters Mill attempted to answer with offensive pressure but came away frustrated.
Early in the first half, Ethan Sandoval’s shot beat Lions goalie Justin Ricketts, but rung the left post.
Jack Mitzelfelt’s shot from 15 yards out with 11:15 to play saw a similar and disappointing result.
“That’s soccer, man,” WM coach Ryan Lenz said with a sigh. “I told the boys at the half, they look like Barcelona at times. They were moving the ball so well.”
Lenz said he still took away plenty of positives from the loss.
Most notably, he said, the Falcons (8-7) set a program record for most wins in a season.
That in itself provides enough positive momentum going forward.
“[The] future is very bright,” Lenz said. “We set that record from very talented teams that have come through here. We’re going to build on that … We’ll probably even start earlier this offseason.”
Liberty advances to take on a familiar opponent in top-seeded Oakdale on Tuesday. The game will be a rematch from last year’s 2A West second round.
The Lions won that matchup 2-0.
“They’re a phenomenal team,” Abarbanel said of the Bears. “I know they’re going to be hungry to play us especially after last year and we’re going to work hard in practice to be ready to go.”
Goals: L-Anthony Goad 2
Assists: L-Chimwemwe Chikuyu
Saves: WM-6 (Josh Kappes 5, Manuel Gavidia 1); L-8 (Justin Ricketts 7, Michael Pellicciotti 1)
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Halftime: Liberty, 1-0