CHICOPEE — As much of an issue as the first goal was, the second was a wicked sucker punch.
In Wednesday's Western Mass. Division III boys soccer semifinal, the Monument Mountain boys saw Palmer blitz them for two goals in a 20-second span just 10 minutes into the game before ultimately succumbing 4-0.
The goals were a mountain too high for the young No. 7 Spartans to climb. After a thrilling run through the end of the season and into the playoffs, the speed of Palmer's Joao Soares was too much to handle. Soares scored the opener, then assisted on the second before scoring both goals in the second half to lift the No. 6 Panthers.
"The Soares kid up top was just phenomenal," Monument coach Matt Naventi said. "Even just trying to man mark him, it didn't work. He was completely on form tonight. If he's going to show up like that, he's going to make a lot of teams have problems."
Soares' performance left the Spartans in a strange place. After overcoming the odds to finish the regular season at 7-6-4 — just above the cutoff for postseason play — Naventi was ultimately happy with his team's season, even if the short-term memory will be slightly painful.
"If you would have told me two weeks ago it would end in the semifinal I would have said 'no way,' you know?" Naventi said. "To have all the young guys get so many quality minutes and develop, and have the few key senior guys step up and play well and lead this team, just to get into the tournament was a great thing."
On the other bench, Palmer coach Jon Remillard was perfectly content with his side's performance, especially the two first-half goals.
"[The goals] were big," Remillard said. "I've been telling these guys, we have to get out on teams early. We haven't lost a game in which we've scored first, from what I've looked at this year."
The first came with 31:21 left in the first half. Soares was able to pick up the ball, scoot past a defender and fire a shot past Kevin Kelly.
Twenty-one seconds later, Kelly was forced to pluck the ball out of his net again.
Soares started this sequence, playing a pass up to Matt Remillard which the junior finished low and hard.
From there, Monument had little in the way of a response.
"It's quite a dagger," Naventi said of the goals. "If we only had that one and could have gotten to halftime, maybe it could have been a different game. We allowed their top scorer too many opportunities."
Soares picked back up again just over seven minutes into the second half, this time taking a pass from Remillard while also spinning off a defender. In space, Soares then pinged a shot under the crossbar that bounced in.
"He was held off the scoreboard last game, and he really picked it up this game," Coach Remillard said of Soares. "He was really energetic, he had it going."
The fourth again came through the pair, with Remillard hitting in a cross this time that Soares met with a thunderous header.
The Spartans were not dealt much of a hand coming into the game with Isaac Graves ruled out through injury, but the second half did turn up a few chances. Dan Newey had a hard shot saved by Jake Riel, as did Dominic Defelice and Mitch Amstead.
Riel finished with six saves. Kelly stopped three saves in 60 minutes of work, while Justin Bartlett finished out the game as Naventi put on his seniors for their final run out.
Palmer advances to play Frontier in the championship game. Monument ends its season at 9-7-4.
P—Soares (UA), 8:39. P—Remillard (Soares), 9:00.
P—Soares (Remillard), 47:35. P—Soares (Remillard), 55:36.
Saves — P: Riel 6. M: Kelly 3, Bartlett 0.