Howard coach Nils Schroder and his team remember last year’s momentous run to the 4A North regional championship game well. After starting the regular season 2-8-1, the Lions got hot at the right time and won six straight games — including three in the postseason.
He also remembers the 2016 campaign, which Howard finished 8-4-1 and had its best record in more than two decades. But a second-round playoff exit ended the Lions’ season far too early for their liking.
“They’ve seen both sides of the coin,” Schroder said, “and they know what’s expected and what’s going to be expected two weeks from now.”
Howard is getting wins at the right time once again. Andy Schon scored with eight minutes remaining in the first half, and the Lions held on for a 1-0 road victory at Atholton on Tuesday night to capture their fourth win in their last five games. It’s also the third shutout of the season for Howard (5-4 county, 6-4 overall), while Atholton (3-5-2, 4-7-2) failed to score for the seventh time this season and the fourth time in its last five games.
“Heading into the playoffs is always our thing. We don’t see anyone in the county again and we want to be playing our best soccer at the end of the season,” Schroder said. “...To be 4-1 in our last five games is where we want to be, and we’ve still got two more games to go and we want to get two more victories heading into the playoffs.”
Atholton controlled the opening stages of the game and had one of its few scoring chances about three minutes in, as a shot by Samuel Johnson went wide, but Howard soon took control. They limited the Raiders’ touches in the offensive zone and capitalized on a poor clear by the goalie to score the only goal of the contest. Karl Quist-Therson found the ball in the middle of the field and quickly passed to Schon, who had no hesitation and rifled his shot to the near post and over the outstretched arms of Atholton goalie Andy Hess (6 saves). It was his first goal of the season.
Aside from that, Schroder said he saw far too much hesitation from his squad.
“We had a couple opportunities where all we had to do was put it on frame and we couldn’t do it tonight. We’ve getting the opportunities … but now we have to finalize.”
Schon’s shot was one of only a few scoring chances for the Lions until the final minutes, when they seemed to find their groove offensively and had four scoring chances in eight minutes.
“He got on the field, he didn’t think, he got to where he was supposed to be and didn’t take any unnecessary touches and just put it on frame,” Schroder said. “Good things happen when you don’t think sometimes.”
Atholton, meanwhile, struggled offensively without their leading scorer Christian Riordan, who was missing his first full game with a hip injury. Coach Zuri Kiser said his team needs to do a better job combining passes and the strikers need better movement off the ball in order to generate more scoring chances.
Their offensive woes aren’t confined to this one game, though. The Raiders have scored more than one goal in a game just twice this season.
“We possess the ball, we play well but we’re not dangerous up top,” Kiser said. “We have problems in the final third finishing.”
Howard (5-4 county, 6-4 overall) — 1, Atholton (3-5-2, 4-7-2) — 0
Goals: Ho — Andy Schon.
Assists: Ho — Karl Quist-Therson.
Saves: Ho — Colin Sutch 3; A — Kyle Hess 6.
Halftime: 1-0, Ho