With seven starters returning from a team that went unbeaten in 17 of its first 18 games last year, West Springfield players had every reason to believe things would come easy again this season.
The eighth-ranked Spartans have found otherwise. Two one-goal wins, a loss and a tie in the first four games was a hard dose of reality.
Now West Springfield takes nothing for granted, and Tuesday night at home the Spartans got down to business again, stretching their unbeaten streak to eight with a 3-1 win over T.C. Williams.
“We’re starting to hit our stride definitely,” said senior defender Brian Le. “We’ve worked, and we’ve gotten by a little, but things are getting better and better.”
The Spartans (8-1-1, 5-0) displayed the potential of a team that could go beyond their Northern Region semifinal appearance last season.
An organized back line did well to limit T.C. Williams’s talented forward Alex Mansaray, who created several opportunities early but never had an unchallenged shot. And up top, Patric Burns and All-Met senior Jannik Eckenrode continued the combination that has produced so much for West Springfield.
“I won a ball off a challenge and I saw [I could] either go one on one or I saw the hard work of [Race] trying to get across the defender,” said Burns, who also scored the third goal for West Springfield. “I just thought it would be the perfect effort to try to play the through ball.”
T.C. Williams (6-5-2, 4-1-1) answered the goal just one minute later when a set piece wasn’t cleared in the box and Kelvin Solis-Marin got a foot on the ball in a scrum to put it in the net.
West Springfield almost responded again when Eckenrode’s wicked curling free kick rattled the inside of the post but somehow stayed out of the goal with just a few minutes remaining. But the two-goal cushion would be plenty enough and the Spartans can clinch the district with a win over South County on Thursday.
They’ve learned, though, not to get ahead of themselves.
“We’re taking it step by step,” Burns said. “First is the district and [then] if you move on in the regionals. We’re not ultimately looking beyond our normal goals.”