The coaches more than once have said to themselves this season, “We’ve gotta find a way to get this kid more playing time.”
Antonio Casabianca’s talent is obvious, with his abilities on both ends of the field, but the starting lineup of the John Jay-East Fishkill boys soccer team is a difficult one to break into, given the quality of its roster. So, Casabianca has been utilized as a “super sub,” filling in wherever there is a need.
“He’s a natural midfielder,” coach Rob Seipp said, “but he can do a little of everything and can take on different roles.”
Including the leading man. Casabianca was the hero Tuesday night, scoring the winning goal late as the Patriots eked out a 1-0 win to stave off upstart Roy C. Ketcham.
In the absence of top scorer Connor Howe, who was sidelined with an injury, the junior stepped in at forward and delivered in the clutch with his deft footwork and savvy.
“I saw the ball come to me and knew this was my moment,” Casabianca said. “We had some opportunities before on crosses and didn’t get it, so I said, ‘This one has to be it.'”
What it means
Ketcham had struggled during a rebuilding phase following its section championship in 2018. But the team appears to be well ahead in its reconstruction, turning heads this season with a hot start.
A victory over John Jay, one of the better programs in Section 1, surely would have been a notch on the belt. And Ketcham did almost earn that. But the Patriots, maintaining their position as big brother, extended the arm and held their intra-district rival at bay. Just barely.
“There’s always excitement going into our games against (Ketcham) and you want to win badly,” senior Joey Moore said. “They’re a really good team and we’ll see them again. We might see them in sectionals, too.”
Both teams had several promising possessions, but those opportunities were thwarted by missed shots and excellent defensive play. The Patriots finally broke through to end the stalemate with 6:32 remaining.
Grant Bryant sent a pass ahead to Erik Popp and the midfielder played a cross to Casabianca on the left wing, setting up the initial shot. Casabianca’s first attempt was deflected, but the ball bounced back to him and, splitting a double team, he angled a shot behind the goalkeeper and into the far corner.
“It was an evenly-played game that could’ve gone either way,” Seipp said, “so it’s always exciting when you’re able to pull those out and win.”
John Jay twice came within inches of goals earlier in the contest. A shot clanged off the left post two minutes into the match and, in the 50th minute, Ketcham’s Ryan Zindler made a last-second defensive save, kicking the ball out just before it crossed the goal line.
Moore, Bryant and Myles McKenna helped lead a defense that repeatedly turned Ketcham away when it breached the 30 – both units, Seipp said, mirroring each other’s speed and intensity. It seemed for a while that overtime was likely.
“But once my first shot hit off the goalie and came back to me, I knew that was it,” Casabianca said. “You have to take advantage of the chances you get.”
Ketcham (4-1-1) hosts Carmel at 4:15 p.m. Thursday. The Patriots (6-2) host Scarsdale at 5 p.m. Thursday in a game that has marquee billing. Both teams narrowly lost in the playoffs last fall to Mamaroneck on its path to the Class AA state semifinals, and Scarsdale has emerged this season as an early title favorite.
“They’re a tough team and played really well in the back,” Casabianca said of Ketcham. “We were just a better team tonight… Being the best team in our district means a lot to us.”
“I think we’re a contender in the section,” Moore said. “There are some really good teams out there, but we believe we’re in that group.”