The Chaminade boys soccer coaching staff used their collective head to make a key tactical change on Friday.
The Flyers moved James Cooney from center midfielder to right midfielder before the second half of the state CHSAA semifinal.
The 6-3 Cooney was the beneficiary of more space and showed his appreciation by using his head — literally — to score the game’s only goal.
The CHSAA MVP headed in the winner in the 60th minute off a corner kick by sophomore Luca Giannola, as Chaminade earned a tough 1-0 decision against St. Francis Prep at Mitchel Athletic Complex.
Chaminade (15-4-1) meets Fordham Prep in the state CHSAA final at 5 p.m. Sunday at Randall’s Island. The Flyers, who played Fordham to a scoreless tie on Sept. 25, are 11-2-1 in their last 14 games.
Cooney described his first half as "lost in the middle." However, the senior’s second half was more like — finding a goal.
"[St. Francis Prep] was hanging on me during goal kicks and various set pieces, and it was frustrating," Cooney said. "I had so much more room on the outside later."
Cooney can thank the Flyers coaching staff and usual right midfielder Thomas Herzog, who moved over to center midfield, for that.
"St. Francis Prep played with a lot of emotion," Chaminade coach Mike Gallagher said. "But in the first half, we were as emotional as they were. Eventually, we all took a deep breath and started to play our game."
The game was ugly throughout with numerous fouls called. There were also six yellow cards given — five to the Terriers — including two yellow cards that went to coach Franco Purificato, who was ejected and sent away from the Terriers bench with 1:34 left in the first half. He did speak to his team at halftime, but watched the rest of the game from outside the gates.
The Flyers finally broke through with a moment of beauty as Giannola’s corner found Cooney, who took care of the rest with a lovely header.
"We rely on Luca for those corner kicks," Gallagher said. "He’s been outstanding."
The Flyers backline was outstanding, too. Joseph Giannola, Jack Flaherty and Garrett Smith were a wall in the back for Chaminade and goalkeeper Patrick Portsmore (three saves), who made a key punch out with 24:08 remaining in the game. Hugo Alfonso was solid with five saves in the loss.
In a wild game with numerous fouls and cards, Chaminade stayed composed, especially in the second half. Gallagher mentioned after the game why he always schedules tough, out-of-area opposing teams like Delbarton and St. Benedict’s from New Jersey and Harverford (Pa.) — a point not lost on his players
"We get great opportunities playing those kinds of teams," Cooney said. "But, honestly, with the instruction we receive, we’re always prepared by our coaches. We have a great staff and we trust what they say."
Using their heads one way or another.