Howard did just about everything well through the first 60 minutes against visiting Reservoir on Tuesday. They managed 16 shots, moved the ball well through the midfield and into the final third and executed a pair of set pieces that resulted in two first-half goals.
The Lions will want to forget about the last 20 minutes they played, as the Gators woke up after striking the post and then scored on a penalty kick with 14 minutes to play. Their push continued but Howard prevailed for a 2-1 victory to improve to 3-0 in Howard County and 4-2 overall. Reservoir dropped to 1-1-1 in the league and 1-3-1 overall.
“We’ve been a Jekyll and Hyde team all season, even tonight,” said Lions coach Nils Schroder. “That’s the best soccer we’ve played for the longest we played.”
Howard played its first five games this spring using a 4-4-2 formation but changed to a 4-3-3 and reaped the benefits early on. A long ball sent into the box found the head of Ryan Hartlove, who flicked it perfectly to a wide-open Colin Harlin. Harlin left no doubts and hammered a right-footed shot past Gators goalkeeper Aaron Klein in the 5th minute.
A second goal came 28 minutes later. Senior captain and defender Jeff Bruner launched a long throw into the box, which found Kyle Harris’ head above the defenders. He placed the ball perfectly into the far side of the goal to give Howard a comfortable 2-0 lead before the half.
“In this county, every goal is hard to come by,” Schroder said. “So any goal you can get, you know, you’ll take, but we've been you know working on set pieces all year.”
The change of formation seemed to fit well with what the Lions did through the first 60 minutes and allowed junior Robbie Ryerson and senior Kyle Harris to earn numerous scoring opportunities in space. Schorder said too often in the 4-4-2 formation players were going after the same ball, but he saw less of that against Reservoir.
“It helped a lot. Just because, before, we were way more defensive,” he said. “But when we started our offense we had two or three guys going for the same ball and then if we would win it we had two guys who were just taken out of it. So tonight just the spacing allowed Robbie a little bit more to get open, Kyle to get a little bit more open.”
Said Bruner: “We’re just clicking in the midfield. We’re making the through balls; we’re playing the corners; we’re playing spaces; we’re just getting onto runs.”
The momentum flipped in the last 20 minutes and the Lions were fortunate to allow just one goal. Nathan Macek confidently buried the penalty kick to cut the lead in half and the Gators had the last six shots of the contest and the only corner kick of the second half. Ultimately, the two-goal deficit was too much to overcome.
“We were talking about attacking the set pieces defensively and we didn’t do that. We ball watched them and we paid for it,” Reservoir coach David-Obeng Darko said. “... The last 20 minutes, that’s who we are but we didn't show so strong today.”
It’s still early, but Howard, River Hill and Hammond were the only two county teams to enter the day with a perfect record in county play. Schroder hasn’t shied away from the expectations he laid on his group before the season, and Bruner agrees.
“If we’re clicking like we usually do and we in play as a unit, we could be top three in the county, I think so,” Bruner said.
Howard 2, Reservoir 1
Goals: Ho — Colin Harlin, Kyle Harris; Re — Nathan Macek.
Assists: Ho — Ryan Hartlove, Jeff Bruner.
Saves: Ho — Colin Sutch 5; Re — Aaron Klein 4.
Halftime: 2-0, Ho