Gielczyk: Leland Rolling as Postseason Draws Closer
Leland kept its boys soccer express speeding along Monday with a 5-0 shutout of the Kingsley Stags.
The Comets, the No. 3 team in the Division 4 poll, improved to 15-1 overall and 5-1 in the Northwest Conference, where they are expected to finish as champions.
But that’s only the first step in the Comets’ mission this year.
After a strong regular season last year, the Comets lost a tight 2-1 match to Harbor Springs in the district finals and they are anxious to erase the sorrow taste left from that bitter defeat.
It ended a five-year run as district champions for the Comets, and those who returned from that team have kept the desire to get back to the regional tournament since the season started.
Meanwhile, they’ve been able to stay focused on their regular season goals, too, much to the chagrin of their opposition, largely due to the leadership from the six starters who returned from last year.
“We’ve got a group of talented guys who have really bought into playing team ball, that’s the biggest thing,” Leland coach Joe Burda said.
Despite all of the shutouts Leland has registered, Burda feels confident the Comets have faced a pretty challenging schedule, especially in the second half as they start seeing teams for the second time, and will be properly prepared for the post-season.
The season finale promises to be the biggest test of all, when the Comets are scheduled to face state ranked Muskegon Western Michigan Christian, which is 13-1 after Tuesday afternoon’s 7-0 shutout of Manistee.
Burda doesn’t believe the Comets have ever beaten the Warriors, at least not since he’s been coaching them.
“So, that’ll be another kind of bench mark, and a good test of where we’re at heading into post-season,” said Burda.
Leland tries to possess the ball, and moving it laterally. It’s been working, too, with the Comets scoring a lot of goals.
What’s most pleasing to Burda is that the goals are coming from a pass in front of the net, and not necessarily relying on shots from deep distance.
“We’re just working the ball up from the gut of the defense, and getting our opportunities six yards or closer,” Burda said.
It’s not just one or two players scoring all the goals, either. The Comets have spread the wealth around, with different ones contributing two or three goals, or two or three assists each match.
Defenses can’t focus on stopping any one, or even two players. If they do, someone is always open.
“We’ve had a handful of games where we’ve had eight goals, and six or more of them have typically had an assist attached to them,” Burda added. “It’s not like somebody dribbling down the (pitch) and taking a shot. The kids are really working the offense, and playing together, trying to find that extra pass.”
Burda guessed that junior forward Cobe Lund might be the team’s leading scorer, but the scoring is so evenly distributed among the entire squad that it’s difficult to pinpoint any one player as standing out.
The return of junior keeper Andy Mosqueda and sophomore center back Owen Kareck has bolstered the defense.
Kareck plays with a much older mindset, Burda says, and he’s very skilled.
“Owen’s really fast and closes down on guys,” said Burda.
Midfield might be the Comets’ strongest point, where most of the work gets done. Offense is just the finishing part of it.
Leland starts its possession in the middle.
Defensive midfielders are typically senior Garret Buta-Scott, sophomore Andre Masse, who Burda says both play great defense. He added that Masse is particularly effective with the ball at his feet and distributing the ball.
The Comets also have a veteran defending the net in junior goalkeeper Andy Mosqueda, with junior Nicholas Saffell and Kareck offensive midfielders.
Mosqueda, a starter in net since he was a freshman, hasn’t seen a ton of shots because the Comets have been so strong in front of him defensively.
“He only has to concentrate on making four or five saves a half,” Burda said. “He’s got a great foot, and he can start our offense from the back of the net, too.
“I think we’ve let in four or five goals, and probably scored 70 or 75. We’re separating ourselves right now.”
Leland just needs to make sure it doesn’t plateau until the end of October, when the Comets are deep in the MHSAA tournament.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News.