GERMANTOWN – Justin Gielen needed just one chance for victory.
The striker, whose scoring touch has tormented defenses 23 times this season, struggled to find the one shot required to give the DeMatha Catholic High School boys’ soccer team the lead in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) Championship.
With less than a minute remaining in regulation and the game tied at one, he got his chance. He received a chipped pass on a counter-attack, outrunning his markers. The senior kicked his shot low enough to glide around the outstretched goalkeeper. However, the ball slid wide left from the goal post as time expired.
“Throughout the game, they were playing a really high line so I knew if we broke it, we would have an opportunity on goal and that didn’t happen up until the very end,” Gielen said. “But it is a lesson learned to take care of the chances when you have them, however little you get.”
Gielen’s off-target chance was one of eight shots DeMatha attempted, but failed to convert into goals. The missed opportunities came back to haunt the Stags as a 10-man Gonzaga team scored the game-winning goal in overtime to win the WCAC soccer championship, 2-1, at the Maryland SoccerPlex on Nov. 5.
The result was the culmination of a roller-coaster season for Stags, who excelled against their conference opponents (6-1-2 in the WCAC), but managed only two wins against outside competition. With 15 seniors lost to graduation, first-year coach Andrew Quinn needed to rebuild the roster with a younger core of talent, including two freshmen.
Gonzaga (14-6-3), who defeated DeMatha in last year’s title game and earned a 1-0 victory during the regular season on Oct. 17, created chances on goal early. Within the first 12 minutes of the match, the Eagles took the lead after sophomore midfielder Ryan Elie’s header crushed into the net for the opening score.
DeMatha struggled to create offense throughout the first half. Gielen, a two-star athlete who committed to the University of Maryland and is the focal point of the Stags’ attack, was heavily marked while fellow seniors Marc Langon and Peyton Barns could not find open space to create passes for chances.
As the first half wound down, a red card was issued to Gonzaga starting goalkeeper Nick Gerlach as he charged onto Gielen for a loose ball outside his goal. Gielen was able to get a touch of the ball and looked poised to take a shot before getting taken down. The ejection left Gonzaga down a man heading into halftime.
The red card opened up space for DeMatha’s offense in the second half. Seconds after the opening whistle, Gielen hit a right-footed shot that just missed and sliced the side netting of the goal. It would take the Stags 10 minutes to score the tying goal as junior Scott Little launched a 30-yard bending shot over the Eagles’ defense to beat backup goalkeeper Gonzalo Bartoli Piñero, tying the match at 1-1.
“The biggest thing we wanted to do with a man advantage was switch the point of attack,” Quinn said. “We wanted to keep the ball a little more and make Gonzaga defend a little more and find the wide areas to exploit the overload in our man advantage. We had our chances to win the game, but that’s just the way the ball bounces.”
In overtime, a late tackle in the penalty area on midfielder Ethan Boshart gave Gonzaga a penalty kick to win the game. Senior Ryan Teuschl’s shot was quickly blocked by DeMatha sophomore goalie Brian Cruz, but the ball was still in play. Teuschi tapped in the rebound for the victory, ending DeMatha’s season.
“We are a great team, but we got unlucky,” Little said. “You cannot get (teammates) like these anymore. At the end of the day, we weren’t lacking anything. We were just unlucky.”
The loss is DeMatha’s second straight in the WCAC championship. Even though 11 seniors will be departing the program, Quinn believes in the young core developed during the year. Underclassmen like Little, left-back Caleb Johnson and sophomore Edson DeMata Ribeiro are expected to contribute more next season, including replacing the scoring numbers left by Gielen.
“The thing about DeMatha is that there are always talented players coming through,” Quinn said. “I know it is always sad to see the seniors go as they’ve had a tremendous impact on this program, but we’re excited for the future as well.”