Hopewell Limps To Break
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Apr 13, 2014, 13:12
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL — The Blue Devils attacked the Colonials with brutal efficiency, working down the flanks while peppering the net with shot-attempts. Defensively, Hopewell was stingy, keeping the Colonials from getting in behind the back line and limiting their scoring chances.
It was the type of effort they needed to produce for confidence reasons after enduring such a dismal start to the season. However, the effort came 40 minutes too late.
The attacking zone moves and compact defense came in the second half after the game was all but decided from a dominant first 40 minutes from Colonial Heights. Hopewell was manhandled in every way. They were confused at how to stop opposing runs, couldn't mark men in the back and struggled to connect even the simplest of passes.
At times, it seemed the Colonials could do — and actually did — whatever they pleased and it resulted in a 4-0 loss which could have been a lot worse had early chances been capitalized on.
"Between the injuries and the kids who were sick including a starter not being able to play after warming up, it got us off on the wrong foot," head coach Brad Dalton said after the game. "We're too thin ... the first half they just out-did us in every part of the game."
And a big part of the reason Hopewell was beaten in almost every way, including attacking 50/50 balls on set-pieces and during the course of play is the lack of people available. For much of this season, it has seemed that whatever could go wrong has gone wrong for Hopewell.
The team that trots out on the field is not the one Dalton envisioned during a spirited preseason when confidence was at an all-time high. Instead, he looks out on the pitch and sees a team ravaged by injuries with constant call-ups from the junior varsity and position switches become the norm.
All of it adds up to a disconnected effort each time out as chemistry fails to take hold. Hopewell had set themselves up with multiple chances to attack the Colonials' defense, but back-heel passes and through-balls always missed their mark.
The inability to read off of one another, especially in trying to get the ball to Tyler Jordan who has proven he can get the ball into the back of net, has stalled the progress of the Blue Devils.
"We're disconnected right now," Dalton said. "I really don't know. I don't know if it's the injuries or the kids who have been sick. I just can't put my finger on it."
Yet, Hopewell needs to keep in mind that while their recent struggles surely sting, the regular season does not carry a heavy weight.
Due to the new playoff system, Hopewell automatically qualifies for their conference tournament and the key is to be playing well once they get there by taking incremental steps along the way. Sure, it seemed like the team took a step in the wrong direction by being out-classed by the Colonials, but that's a team that is undefeated this season.
And during a full week off to recuperate, Hopewell can zero in on two specific dates on the calendar — April 22 and May 15. Both days represent matches against Petersburg, a team within their own conference and a chance to obtain better seeding for the tournament.
"Our goal remains the same — be ready for the tournament. I don't want to say the regular season is not important, but the regular season is not important," Dalton said. "I think the kids realize that but at the same time we need to start building some momentum."
One player who can help the Blue Devils do just that is midfielder Dylan Tracey.
Tracey has been Hopewell's best player on the pitch over the last few games and continued his hot-play against the Colonials. Tracey continually made great behind the defense runs and never once got discouraged when his teammates couldn't find him.
Instead, he tracked back to the defensive side of the ball and orchestrated more attacking runs. It's the type of effort that can propel a team to play better as a whole and it has caught the eye of Dalton.
"He's been Mr. Consistency," Dalton said. "He makes those runs and doesn't get the ball, he never hangs his head. He just makes the run again. If we can get everybody to play with that mentality, it will come together by the end of the season."
With Tracey's effort as the blueprint, Hopewell can still turn around their season with 10 more matches to go if their compete level raises a little higher.