LINWOOD -- You could be forgiven for thinking Monday afternoon's high school girls soccer match between host Mainland Regional and Middle Township was reminiscent of some sort of late-summer scrimmage.

The weather simply was that beautiful, and some of the play veered toward the sloppiness one expects from teams still trying to find their groove after after a few summer months spent away from playing soccer.

Now, that's not to say Monday's match  -- won 2-1 by Middle Townsip in double-overtime -- wasn't of a high quality. Not at all. But as sharp and crisp as some of the passing sequences from both teams were, that tactical nous, for lack of a better word, seemed to be lacking.

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That was especially evident in the way all three goals were scored. Mainland took a 1-0 lead in the first half courtesy of a Kelsea Kneisel penalty kick, but Middle answered quickly via a free kick by Kelsey McCusker.

Both strikes were well taken, but they weren't really the result of any type of tremendous build-up play. In these cases, it was a mistake made by the defense that led to the goalscoring situation.

And that's precisely where the difference between an early season match and a sharper, higher-quality mid- to late-season game between schools of this caliber comes into sharp relief. This wasn't a classic by any stretch.

The nature of the winning goal ... a strike by Middle's Laura Miller after a defensive mix-up and collision by Mainland ... summarizes that. With the win, Middle is now 3-0, and a very good Mainland opens the season 2-2.

"Of course, you want to come out and start your season by winning every game," Mainland Regional goalkeeper Jessica Figueroa, a senior from Linwood who recently was called into the Mexican U-17 national team camp, told me Monday night.

"But the girls are still behind one another. For some of them, it's their first time playing varsity. We still have to get used to each other. When the playoffs come around, we'll be there."



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