WEST HARTFORD>> Conard’s boys soccer team knew it was going to have its hands full with Northwest Catholic’s R.J. Place.
The plan was to double-team him, slow him down. But that didn’t work. Place scored two goals as Northwest Catholic played Conard to a 3-3 tie at Northwest Catholic High School on Wednesday.
“R.J. dominated a game,” said Conard coach Adam Linker, whose team is now 3-0-1 . “R.J. was part of the game plan and when we have guys try to double team him, he’s so strong, he’s so fast, he’s so quick, it didn’t matter. He took care of what he had to take care of and we had a difficult time marking him.”
Place has scored six goals in the first four games of the season, two in each vs. Bulkeley, Southington and Conard. Though he was shut out in Farmington, NWC coach Terry Phillip said the Indians “marked him with four guys.”
Place’s first goal came with the Indians trailing 1-0.
“On the first one, he backed in and turned his back so quick, he was off,” Linker said. “Finished well.”
That came with 19:19 left in the first and tied the game at 1-1.
Northwest Catholic (2-1-1) took the lead when Logan Wolf found the back of the net with 11:11 on the clock. But the teams went into halftime tied 2-2 after Conard’s Sebby Rengifo scored with just under two minutes remaining.
The teams came out of the break and Place went back to work, going right at his defenders.
“He’s one of those guys when he’s in the final third (of the field) and he has the ball, he’s a difference-maker, Linker said. “He can finish, he can tear you apart and he’s different from some of those other flashy guys who want to cut and hold onto the ball. This guy wants to go right for your jugular every time he gets it.”
And that’s what he did to give Northwest Catholic a 3-2 lead.
“One defender over-committed and you can’t do that when he’s facing,” Linker said. “You have to stay in front of him and wait for your help.”
But Conard, a very strong team in the loaded CCC West, wasn’t going to let this one slip away, despite missing one of its top players, Erik Ribeiro, who was out with an illness.
“They were down a man, but they’re a full-loaded team,” Phillip said. “They have tons of talent with or without Erik [Ribeiro], they are a very good soccer team. With Erik they are going to be a better soccer team, but without Erik they still have enough talent to get it done.”
Lucas Busch stepped up today.
The outside midfielder scored the first goal of the game, just 2 minutes and 6 seconds in and then scored the last goal of the game with 17:35 on the clock in the second.
“When we’re at full strength, we have some players that can take care of the business,” Linker said. “I have players who have offensive talents. We’re not one player this year, we’re a team. Look at today, Lucas Busch, outside midfielder scored twice. That’s what you need on team to replace 25 goals (by Matheus Souza, now at UConn).”
Place had one more chance to win the game. With about a minute and a half left in the first overtime, he streaked down the right sideline, one-on-one, and skipped a shot just wide.
“Every time he got the ball, I just went ‘This isn’t good,'” Linker said.
“R.J. is going to be R.J.,” Phillip said. “At one time he was a secret weapon. He’s no secret no more.”
The two teams will meet again on Oct. 10 at Conard High School, but first they must finish out this three-game week. Northwest Catholic travels to Simsbury on Friday for a 7 p.m. start and Conard will host reigning Class L champions, Farmington at 6 p.m.