By Dan Harrison
---- — SALEM — With Bertram Field still under renovation, the Salem and Beverly boys soccer teams matched up yesterday at McGrath Park on a field that was smaller than the usual high school pitch.
The midfield was that much tighter, but nobody had a tougher afternoon than the goalies.
With through balls that got into the box that much quicker, Salem’s Christian Van De Stadt and Beverly’s Justin Carnavale had to come out and be a little more aggressive when clearing the ball out. Both guys paid a heavy price as the Panthers edged the Witches, 4-1 in the Northeastern Conference bout.
Towards the end of the first half with his team ahead 1-0, Carnavale went up to punch a ball out of the box with Brandon Mustufaraj bearing down on him. The clear was successful, but Carnavale was injured on the play. He finished the half and played some of the second half before the Panthers (2-1) extended their lead to 3-1 and he was pulled from the match.
Salem (0-2-1) suffered an own-goal before Graham Doherty buried a shot after a splendid through ball from Savio Polini to give the Panthers a two-goal lead. Carnavale made eight total saves including six in the first half.
“He (Carnavale) had to be aggressive. The field was short so the ball was coming right in and the goalies had to be brave,” said Beverly head coach Kevin Leahy. “They both (Carnavale and Van De Stadt) paid the price unfortunately.”
Like his counterpart, Van De Stadt suffered a game-ending injury when he went up in the air to clear a ball and collided with George Hillios. Van De Stadt Had already been in a tough collision in the first half on a similar play. The injury was just the latest in what’s been an extremely unlucky beginning of the season for head coach Michael Collins and the Witches.
Van De Stadt (12 saves) made back-to-back diving stops in the first half on one of Beverly’s best chances and his second save when he smothered a low, rebound shot from Polino, was highlight reel stuff.
“He was fearless and unfortunately that put him on the bench,” Collins said of his keeper. “That’s been the name of the season so far. We’re down to just 13 players. My hope is that we can get healthy.”
Hillios and the Panthers broke first blood in the opening half when the Witches failed to clear a bouncing ball on the box. Hillios capitalized and snuck a nice right footed shot low and into the left-hand corner of the net.
Beverly found its rhythm in the midfield in the second half with some great touches by Doherty, Hillios, Polini and Ryan Santo and the Panthers exposed a depleted Salem defense. Van De Stadt was injured between the second and third goal and despite some nice clearing by Witches defender Gabe Andreotolla, the visitors couldn’t withstand the heavy attack.
“The field was tough to play on, we’re used to being on turf where the ball stays low but today it was bouncing around and our touch was awful at the start,” said Leahy. “I guess I have to find a better warm up.”
Salem made it 3-1 in the second half when Nathan Russell buried a shot on a nice pass from Mustufaraj. Russell was the Witches most consistent player which is nothing new for the mature sophomore, who nearly scored again at the end of the game when his shot banged off the crossbar.
“Nathan is very consistent and very energetic. He’s Mr. Dependable,” Collins explained. “If I had 11 other players like him, we’d be all set.”
Beverly has also struggled with consistency from all of its players. Yesterday was much of the same as when the Panthers clicked, they were basically unstoppable but for stretches, complacency seemed to set in.
“We’re still trying to figure out who we are,” Leahy said. “There’s times in the game where we play really well and times when we sit back and watch. Hopefully we can figure that out.”