HUDSON — When dissecting offensive tactics in soccer, it often comes down to whether a team likes to possess the ball with short passes or play the through ball and attack the goal directly.
In its home game Thursday vs. Woodridge, the Western Reserve Academy boys team played a bit of a hybrid method against the Bulldogs.
It worked like a charm.
WRA found the goal early and often, scoring a 4-1 win over Woodridge at WRA Stadium. WRA improved to 6-1-1 on the season, while Woodridge dropped to 1-3-4.
Playing on the wide field at WRA Stadium, the Pioneers were able to use their passing game to possess the ball in the midfield and toward the back. However, in the offensive third, Reserve used its speed to get to the net.
"I think that’s just the way the game developed," WRA head coach Herb Haller said. "We were able to get them stretched out from penalty box to penalty box. Once we did that, there was a lot of room for us to work with."
Acknowledging that Reserve was one of the most technical sides the Bulldogs faced this season, Woodridge head coach Andrew Spencer was far from unhappy with his team.
"I think that was probably the best game we’ve played all year," Spencer said. "They got their four goals on miscues in the back. I think that we stayed with them for most of the game.
"Offensively, we did a great job passing the ball around, especially in the second half. We just need to pull the the trigger a bit more."
The Pioneers opened the scoring in the third minute, thanks to a great run from junior forward Orion Mills along the left side. Mills shook a pair of defenders and got to the end line before sliding a pass to the back post.
WRA captain Henry Ong put the ball home at close range to make it 1-0.
"He has had a good season for us," Haller said of Ong. "We’ve had high expectations for him and he has come through for us."
The Pioneers doubled their advantage off a corner kick in the 12th minute. Freshman Cameron Krueger served the ball to the near post and midfielder Luiz Rosa da Silva put a foot to the ball in traffic and put it home.
Woodridge only had one clear scoring chance in the first half, but it made the most of it. After Gary Thiel stole the ball from the Reserve defense, he passed the ball to a charging Nolan Kuhlke.
Kulhke ended up chipping the ball over WRA goalkeeper Sebastian Staddon and into the net to make it 2-1 in the 21st minute.
"The thing I’ve been trying to tell the guys to do is to make runs from the midfield," Spencer said. "[Kuhlke] did that right as he came onto the field. He was coming back from an injury, so that was great to see."
However, WRA restored its two-goal advantage just a minute later. The Pioneers were able to steal the ball and feed Mills, who put a low shot into the net to make it 3-1.
Ong completed the scoring in the 33rd minute with a willful run through the middle. Ong beat two Woodridge defenders, gathered his own rebound on a blocked shot and beat Woodridge goalkeeper Ben Rado to make it 4-1.
With the three-goal lead at halftime and his team in the midst of a stretch in which it has played three games in six days, Haller admitted the Pioneers took their foot off the gas in the second half with an eye toward keeping fit for the weekend.
The Bulldogs were able to get more possession in the second half as a result, but the Pioneers’ lead was never threatened.
Depsite giving up four goals, Rado may have been Woodridge’s best player Thursday. He finished with 13 saves, several of which were diving stops to deny the Pioneers.
WRA finished with a 17-3 edge in shots on goal.
Both teams were set to return to action Saturday. Woodridge will travel to Massillon Perry at 3 p.m., while the Pioneers travel to Berlin Hiland at 5 p.m. for a Tri-County Soccer League game.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO.