By Conor Walsh
---- — SALEM -- For a Gloucester girls soccer team that entered this season with lofty expectations, an 0-4-2 start to the season was far from what it envisioned.
But through that difficult stretch -- which hit rock bottom last week with a 5-1 loss to Danvers -- coach Alex White preached that continued hard work would yield results.
For the second straight game, White’s words rang true for the Fishermen, as they overcame sloppy conditions at Bertram Field to earn their second win of the season with a dominant 2-0 victory over Salem last night.
“It was frustrating because I just knew that we could play better, but at the same time, nothing was going our way,” White said. “We hit more crossbars and posts than you could imagine. The Danvers game was just mind-boggling. I thought it was a lot closer than 5-1.
“That was really a moment where we sat down with the girls and said, ‘When things start going our way, you’re going to see improvement. We need to continue to play hard, it’s just not in our favor right now.’”
For at least one night, White was right. Despite a mediocre first half, Gloucester entered halftime with a 1-0 lead thanks to forward Kali Cook, who headed a Melodie Orrell cross past the Salem goalkeeper to put the Fishermen ahead.
And after a much-improved second half, where the Fishermen’s attack could only be stifled by the impressive play of Salem’s goalkeeper, Cook broke through again, sliding a rebound from a blocked Bianca Giacalone shot into the back of the net to give the Fishermen their second win in four days.
“It’s difficult in the weather,” said White, whose team is used to the smooth turf field at its home for the season, Gordon College. “Going back from turf to grass to turf to grass, especially with the weather, is tough. And I thought the first half, we didn’t play as well as we could have, but I thought the second half we really stepped our game up.”
Unfortunately for coach Art Simms, Gloucester’s boys soccer team didn’t enjoy the same success as its female counterparts in the nightcap of last night’s boys/girls double-header with the Witches.
After playing Salem to a scoreless draw for much of the first half, Salem striker Simon Barits took advantage of a lapse in the Gloucester backline and connected on a cross from midfielder Abdi Mwanambaji with three minutes left in the half to take the wind out of the Fishermen’s sails, as they headed into halftime faced with a one-goal deficit.
Forty-five seconds into the second half, Barits again found the back of the net (again after a cross from Mwanambaji) and the rout was on, as Salem rode four second-half goals to a 5-2 win.
“It’s never an easy game against these guys,” Salem coach Mike Collins said. “That’s one team that you do not take for granted. We were very lucky, they had a couple of lapses and we took advantage of them, and that was the result.”
The game itself was far from as lopsided as the score would indicate. After falling behind on Barits’ second goal, the Fishermen pushed to even the score and pinned the Witches in their defensive end.
That pressure paid off when Gloucester’s Jason Vizena buried a rocket from the top of the penalty box off a corner kick to cut the lead to 2-1.
Any comeback hopes seemed to fade, however, when Salem midfielder Robert Abreu sliced through the Gloucester defense on the ensuing kick-off and netted a goal to regain the Witches’ two-goal lead.
From there, it was all Salem (5-1-1) as the game got chippy. Barits completed his hat trick to make it 4-1 shortly after Abreu’s tally, and Abreu struck again for the Witches’ fifth and final goal late in the second half.
On top of Barits’ hat trick, Abreu finished with two goals and an assist and Mwanambaji notched three assists.
Gloucester’s Cal Cosgrove blasted a set-piece into the back of the Salem net in the game’s final minutes, but it was of little consequence. And despite a game that, in large part, was played fairly evenly -- the Fishermen even outshot the Witches, 20-14 -- Gloucester (4-3-2) the result was all that mattered.
“Disappointing result,” Sims said. “I though we played a good game, but Salem executed and we didn’t. Simple as that. We outshoot them, 20-14, they finish theirs, we miss ours. It was that simple.”