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(Central Jersey) - The Real Central NJ Soccer (RCNJ) WPSL women’s team fought to a 3-2 victory against Lehigh Valley Tempest in an intense high-stakes home match on Friday, July 8th. After a start of the season 1-1 draw, this was the time to change the pace and have someone come out with a win. Not only was this the final Mid-Atlantic Conference league game, but it was also the determining match of who would win the WPSL Mid-Atlantic Division title and secure a spot in the upcoming playoffs on Saturday, July 16.

The first moments opened up with quick advancements from RCNJ searching for opportunities to score as quickly as possible. With a pass from RCNJ’s backline, Ava Curtis took the ball down the middle and saw an open Sophia Lis on her left which she sent a high pass up the field. Lis then settled the ball and sent it to goal, her shot bouncing off of the post and finding the net behind Lehigh Valley’s Gabriella Neal. Lis is a valuable Real Central NJ player as well as the youngest, having just graduated Princeton High School.

Real Central NJ’s drive surely did not stop after the first goal. Curtis was taken down in a scuffle fighting for the ball inside Lehigh’s 18 in the 9th minute. With a blow of the whistle, a free kick was awarded to Curtis in a one-on-one face-off between her and Neal. Curtis took the kick and launched the ball to the upper right-hand corner of the goal with amazing precision, giving Real Central NJ a two-nil lead. Lehigh Valley tried to fight back with attempts to bring the ball back to RCNJ territory but could not keep up with Real Central NJ’s resilient starting backline. Sydney Watson and Stella Kahn were constantly seen with a foot on the ball any time a situation arose near goalkeeper Jamie Skarupsky and it was wiped away immediately.

Just minutes after Real Central NJ’s second goal, Lehigh Valley was able to get some quick touches on the ball and send it to Haley Gschrey, ready to jump in and get a foot on the ball. Gschrey ran in, sneaking behind Watson, and received a bouncing pass from Isabella Touzeau which she flicked past Skarupsky in the 17th minute. Before the end of the first period, the women were determined to create more space between them and Lehigh Valley Tempest on the scoreboard.

Lis was able to gain possession of the ball from some touches by her teammates, advancing the ball back to Lehigh Valley’s half. With a defender racing by her side, Lis sent a high leading pass to the left wing where Makenzie Rodriques settled the ball and struck a shot toward goal. Bouncing off Neal’s fingertips in a diving save attempt, the ball crossed the line and gave Real Central NJ the 3-1 lead in the 21st minute.

Photo credit: Ben Rowe

Real Central NJ continuously kept the pressure on Lehigh Valley’s backline and put Neal’s keeper skills to the test. Despite the three goals that got past her, Neal’s spirit and drive did not waver for the rest of the match. The remainder of the first half consisted of some combination plays from both teams in an attempt to score another goal but nothing was successfully executed without interruption from defenders.

“Player of the Match” Becca Margolis was one of many valuable players contributing to the big win for Real Central NJ. “My teammates did a really good job at getting open in the right moments. I think we took some risks which also put us in front of them a little bit and made them uncomfortable,” Margolis commented about the strategies present in the match.

“I thought Soph [Sophia Lis] did a really good job getting in those pockets up top and Mak [Makenzie Rodrigues] did a really good job getting the ball to the net. Everyone did really well.”

The second half began with fresh legs and both teams were hungry for the win. Real Central NJ’s second-half goalkeeper, Sophia Kavulich, made plenty of incredible saves, including several 1v1s at point blank range. In the 57th minute, Kavulich came running out of goal as an aggressive Haley Gschrey came barreling down the field in a breakaway and fell short to her intricate footwork which allowed her to send a ground ball to the net before she could react. This now put one goal in between a draw for Real Central NJ and Lehigh Valley Tempest, so the stakes increased as did the intensity for the rest of the second period.

Not long after Lehigh Valley’s second goal, Kavulich was spotted coming out of goal and facing an attacker not one, but multiple times as the half went on. In a split-second moment, Kavulich would run out of goal and completely swipe the ball away from an attacker trying to run in and take a shot which put fans on edge but was critical to keeping Lehigh from striking again.

The second half progressed with intense performances from both teams and ball possession switching in the blink of an eye. For a short while, Real Central NJ was able to settle the ball in Lehigh Valley’s territory with back-to-back corner kicks which Ava Curtis took each time. It seemed as though RCNJ would possibly earn a fourth goal during this time but a determined Lehigh Valley defensive line refused to let that happen. As the period neared its end both Real Central NJ and Lehigh Valley’s offensive lines made efforts to settle the ball at the top and go in for a goal. Two minutes were added to the second half giving Lehigh Valley a chance to even the score but nothing came of it and the match ended in Real Central NJ’s favor.

“I thought the game went great in the first half. The second half was a little more of a heart attack where you didn’t know what was going to happen there,” Head Coach Brian Thomsen said, giving his post-match reaction.

Thomsen expressed his pride for the team’s performance not only during this match but for the entirety of the season thus far. “We had a game on Wednesday night where we were in a similar position, you had to come from behind. It was just very competitive where you had to battle for everything but the girls pulled it out.”

Real Central NJ soccer will be hosting the Eastern Conference semi-finals at home on Saturday, July 16th, with games at 5:30 pm and 8 pm. 2023 season pass holders, both complete and WPSL, will have access to all matches held that weekend including Saturday’s semi-finals and the Eastern Conference final match, which will be Sunday with more details coming soon. Follow the team on social media (@realcentralnj) for up-to-the-minute details.



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