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PROVIDENCE â€“ There was an epic little war of a soccer game played on Saturday at La Salle Academy. Pawtucketâ€™s Shea High, a totally ethnic squad of skilled players from several countries, took on an equally skilled La Salle squad, coached by one of the giants, Mario Pereira, in a match witnessed by perhaps 300 soccer aficionados.
The contest featured two distinct swings in momentum that ended with a few players pushing at each other, trash-talking, as is the custom in this era, and wishing for an overtime period to decide a game that needed a more decisive outcome than the stalemate that occurred. Final score: Shea 2, La Salle 2.
The Rams, who had lost their first game of the season just four days earlier to defending state champion Barrington, jumped out to a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes, taking a 1-0 lead after five minutes on a goal by Trevor Torres, and then claiming a 2-0 lead late in the first half when Ranier Randell converted on a beautiful corner kick.
Shea coach Pierre Ridore had seen enough from his talented but fragile squad. He read them the riot act at halftime.
â€śWe didnâ€™t show up in the first half,â€ť Ridore said. â€śLa Salle was flying to the ball. We were very passive. At halftime, I challenged my team, told them if they wanted to lie down and lose by four or five goals, then just keep playing the way they did in the first half.â€ť
The Raiders came out and began to control the action in the second half. Soccer is like a small war, where territory is precious, and momentum switches rapidly. La Salle, which had controlled the action in the first half, suddenly was late to the ball, not winning the physical battles, the subtle pushing and shoving that naturally occurs when teenage athletes are giving everything they have to get to the ball first.
â€śWeâ€™re not usually a physical team,â€ť Shea coach Pierre Ridore said, â€śbut today we played with a lot of heart in the second half.â€ť
Shea athletic director Ray McGee, a constant follower of this team, allowed this much midway through the second half: â€śWeâ€™re not backing off. The kids came to play today.â€ť
Mario Pereira sensed as much as he screamed at the officials. His players had drawn two yellow cards in the first half. Now the Raiders were pushing the action and he felt the officials were overlooking obvious fouls.
â€śThe officials did not call the game properly,â€ť Pereira would say after the game, speaking of the two officials, who were no more than 10 feet away and hearing every word.
Pereira also wasnâ€™t happy that his team had allowed Shea back into this match.
â€śWe have to do a better job of controlling ourselves in this kind of situation,â€ť was the way he explained Sheaâ€™s comeback.
Pereira is also a soccer purist, and he knows talent when he sees it.
â€śShea has two great players,â€ť he said, speaking of forwards Emerson Barros and Joao Cardoso, who would lead the charge in the second half, as the Raiders began to control the action, keeping the ball in La Salleâ€™s end of the field, penetrating 10 or 20 yards at a time, then losing the ball back in the ebb and flow of the game.
An opposing coachâ€™s nightmare is seeing Emerson Barros breaking down the field, easily outrunning opponents, looking to break in alone on the goalkeeper, who is constantly telling his defenders to mark the stateâ€™s second leading goal scorer. It is not just Barros, though, who is pushing the action. Cardoso roams through the center of the offense, distinctive in his own creative skills, possessor of a strong shot that is often delivered in the middle of traffic. And this dynamic duo gets complementary help from teammates like Issifou Kankarafou, Richmond Baffour, Elvys Varela, William Neves, Ienik Spencer and Kevin Andrade.
In the end, it would come down to two great shots by Cardoso that tied this game at 2-2 and left everyone wanting more. The first one came midway through the second half, a long shot from just outside the box that landed in the top left corner of the net, past an leaping attempt by La Salle keeper Colby Faria.
As Shea maintained the pressure, Barros took a hard shot that Faria leaped to stop. A corner kick ensued, with the ball falling short of the goal and rolling over the end line. La Salleâ€™s Randell would then hit the post at the other end of the field from five feet away, one of those do-or-die shots with no time to think, just put a foot on the ball and see what happens.
Less than two minutes later, Sheaâ€™s Baffour had his own golden moment, sending a hard shot inches past the right post. Baffour put his hands to his face and sunk to the grass, getting dragged to his feet by teammates as the ball headed back to midfield.
Cardoso, who seemed in the middle of every offensive push by Shea, came in strong two more times, before finally stunning the crowd, and players on both sides, with a hard shot from 20 yards that hit the top of the bar and deflected down into the net. The game was now tied 2-2 with 10 minutes left.
It would play out fairly evenly to the end, with Shea pushing the action, playing on pure emotion. The La Salle side, so skilled and talented, had allowed Shea to play its creative game on their own field. Maybe they were too confident, too sure of themselves, to respond when Shea upped the ante and went all out in the second half.
It is likely these two teams will meet in the Division I playoffs next month, in the semis, or the finals, depending on where Shea gets seeded. Right now, La Salle has 24 points in 15 games and Shea has 23 in 16. The Raiders have two games left in the regular season and need to win them both to clinch the second seed behind La Salle in the playoffs. Central Falls, which lost to Cumberland on Saturday, has 21 points in 15 games with three left to play.
â€śThese are the two best teams in the state,â€ť Pereira said, grudgingly giving the Raiders their due following an epic regular season showdown.
Shea 0 â€“ 2 â€“ 2
La Salle 2 â€“ 0 â€“ 2
First half scoring: 1. L, Trevor Torres (Danny Apajee), 5:00; 2. L, Ranier Randell (Colin Patch), 32:00.
Second half scoring: 3. S, Joao Cardoso (Emerson Barros), 18:00; 4. S, Joao Cardoso (Issifou Kankarafou), 30:00.
Shots on goal: Shea 9, La Salle 9. Goalie saves: Julio Garcia (S) 7, Kolby Faria (L) 7.