The home crowd let out a collective groan as West Springfield midfielder Niko Marcich doubled over, visibly in pain after a hard header went straight to his midsection. He had been an offensive threat all game for the Spartans, but was asked to guard the near-post before a Chantilly corner kick early in the second half Friday night.
The cross was redirected on a header, the whole West Springfield team out of position but Marcich, who saved a sure goal — and maybe the game — when the ball was rocketed into his lap.
“That was pretty painful. Just had to take one for the team,” Marcich said. “I couldn’t really adjust at all, so I just had to take it right there.”
West Springfield’s back line withstood numerous scoring opportunities by Chantilly, and defender Conor MacMurdy delivered the go-ahead goal as the seventh-ranked Spartans blanked the fourth-ranked Chargers, 1-0, in a testy nonconference match.
Both teams watched as their junior varsity squads got chippy prior to the varsity contest, and the nightcap certainly didn’t lack for intensity. Chantilly (1-1), which made noise in the area scene last week by upsetting No. 2 Lake Braddock, 2-1, set the tone with a dogged offensive approach in the first half. The Chargers had four promising scoring chances off set pieces, including a direct kick in the 37th minute that was redirected and whistled just above the crossbar.
But West Springfield (2-0), which now has two wins over ranked opponents to open the season, showed grit with its veteran backline. Senior keeper Blake Euwema made several daring saves and fully extended his 6-foot-1 frame to save a 40-yard direct kick in the first half. And MacMurdy, playing between two senior captains in Tommy Albouhosn and Scott King, made the offensive play of the night 13 minutes into the game. He snuck up from the backfield and headed in a cross from Marcich on the left side of the field, which caught Chantilly off guard.
“With a defensive mind, I still play midfield sometimes so I can still get into the attack. I know how to score goals,” MacMurdy said. “We kept the clean sheet, which we always want . . . we can be real good. A lot of clean sheets, I’m predicting this year.”
Marcich won the crowd once more late in the game. He released on a breakaway 30 yards from the goal with just under a two minutes to play, but over-extended on his kick and pushed the ball above the post. He bit his jersey and retreated up field slowly, not knowing that he had already done enough for his team to win.
“Our defense was solid. We kept our structure compact, which helped a lot. We didn’t really possess the ball like we wanted to,” Marcich said. “We basically just did what we needed to do to win the game.”