EuropeD-II boys semifinals
Hot Naples team to battle unbeaten AOSR
Stars and Stripes May 17, 2023
BAUMHOLDER, Germany – It takes a bold team to change tactics midseason after spending the early part of the season learning one way to play.
Naples soccer coach Dirk Lambertson and his boys needed that switch, however, after a rough start to the season. Instead of going with the traditional 4-3-3 formation that has seen them win the last two European titles in 2019 (Division I) and 2022 (Division II), they switched to a 3-5-2, which allowed the squad to play to its strengths in midfield while at the same time shoring up the defense.
“It works so well for us because instead of just choosing a formation based on how we used to do it, we changed to work with what we got, use every player based on their abilities,” Naples senior Henri Schneider said. “The change came pretty easily, and we’re very happy that we made that change.”
That change has turned around the team’s fortunes. The Wildcats’ unbeaten streak has hit seven matches, as Naples defeated Marymount 7-0 in a Division II semifinal of the DODEA European soccer championship at VfR Baumholder’s stadium on Wednesday afternoon.
The Wildcats (6-2-2) last lost on April 14-15 to Bahrain (2-0) and Vicenza (2-1).
At that point, Schneider said the Wildcats couldn’t fathom advancing to their third consecutive final.
“We’re super excited, especially because we had a rough start to the season,” the midfielder said. “I don’t think anybody on the team realistically thought we were going to be in the final right now.”
As much as it’s shored up the defense - Naples has allowed one goal all tournament - it also has boosted the offense.
Against the Royals (4-5-1), five Wildcats got on the scoresheet. Sophomore forward Jackson Shorey recorded his second hat-trick of the tournament, and Thomas Albright, Tommy Egan, Alex Hermanson and Schneider each added one.
“The new formation’s helped me with my goals and then just communication and having teammates that you can rely on to get you the ball,” Shorey said. “Just being so close with my teammates is really beneficial with helping me score goals.”
The semifinal win went differently than the two’s regular-season meeting.
That one ended with five yellow cards for Naples and three red cards for Marymount. On Wednesday, while both squads jawed at each other and one Royal got his marching orders right before the end, it was rather tame by comparison.
Another difference came in how quickly the Wildcats pounced on the Royals. Naples jumped out to a four-goal lead before the break and never looked back.
“We know that if we gave (the Royals) anything at all, they were going to take it to us,” Lambertson said. “So, we just had to keep it tight, keep playing hard and try to score first. I knew once we scored, we were hoping the floodgates would open, and they did.”
In the earlier boys semifinal in Baumholder, top-seed American Overseas School of Rome continued its quest to win a European championship by defeating Vicenza 3-0. It was a match the Falcons (11-0) controlled from start to finish.
“We set our objective at the beginning of the season, to win this European (tournament),” AOSR coach Giacomo Castelli said. “We’re missing one step, but we’re confident going into the final (Thursday).”
The Falcons could have won by more if not for the efforts of Cougar goalkeeper Nicholas Morton. The junior blocked a penalty by AOSR co-captain Nicolo Giuffrida and managed to stop the immediate rebound with his leg. He also made a nice save on a shot by Gabriele Ghione, who did manage to score the Falcons’ lone second-half goal after that stretch.
Junior midfielder Jacopo Giuffrida and senior forward Zane El Kilany found the back of the net in the first half.
Despite scoring more goals in the first 40 minutes than the second, Castelli said the Falcons played their style better in the latter frame.
“We were trying to go vertical immediately because Vicenza was pressuring high and we were trying to look for the through ball from the lower part of the field,” he said of the first-half play. “What I want usually is to build and construct, and the second half, we did a better job by playing more two touches, three touches and then trying the combinations which we work on.”
The Falcons and Wildcats advanced to a rematch of last year’s final on Thursday at Ramstein High School. Castelli said AOSR has been looking forward to some payback for the loss.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, know they face a tall task in trying to slow down Ghione and the Falcons.
“We’re probably going to pray a lot because they’re probably the best team here,” Lambertson said. “They are by far the best team I’ve seen AOSR have in a long time.”