WOONSOCKET – The offense of Tolman High, spearheaded by high-scoring sophomore Manny Wongen, has been a major contributor to its undefeated record so far.
But you got to give credit to the Tigers’ defense, too.
Just like its previous seven tilts in Division II-North, the ‘D’ was at the top of its game on Monday afternoon as the Tigers held off upset-minded Woonsocket, 2-1, at Barry Field.
No surprise, it was Wongen that netted both scores for the Tigers as they earned their eighth league win without a defeat. But the difference in the outcome was the defense, a unit that has allowed only six tallies all season.
The Tigers, who have scored 32 goals this fall, squandered numerous scoring opportunities against the Villa Novans. Thanks to the efforts, in particular, of senior Calvin DeOliveira, junior Ruben Cano, junior Carlos Sanabria and sophomore Andrew Calle, two goals would be enough for Tolman to remain atop the league standings with a date versus equally-unbeaten Smithfield (6-0-1) on Thursday.
“We couldn’t finish today. We had at least five or six chances with just our guys and the goalie and we just couldn’t finish,” Tolman coach Jack Couto said. “The defense stepped up big time today. The defense has played great all year.”
Tolman had its hands full versus a Woonsocket squad it defeated by a 6-0 score back on Sept. 16. Wongen gave his teammates an early 2-0 advantage at halftime, scoring less than a minute into the game and then again at the midway point.
The Villa Novans (3-4-1) didn’t back down in the second half, though. Senior Travis Sisovong got Woonsocket within a goal when he scored at the 51st minute. After holding the Tigers scoreless in the latter half, the Novans had a few chances to deadlock the game with their best coming with a minute left on the clock - a free kick by senior Destri Desilets that went just a foot wide of the cage.
The outcome was déjà vu for Woonsocket, where it allowed early goals before picking up the intensity in the second half. Last Friday it suffered a similar fate versus Moses Brown when it gave up two scores in the initial half before losing another 2-1 decision.
“I told the kids if they could play the first half like they play the second half, our record would be much different,” Woonsocket coach Andy Rao said. “You just can’t give up the goals early on.”
Couto expected a close affair with the Villa Novans, who suffered a 2-0 setback to Mount Hope two days before facing the talented Tigers.
“We knew they were a very good team,” he said. “We played them just (after their loss). Even their coach said they weren’t ready for it. I knew it was going to be totally different. That’s a team that tied Smithfield so we knew they were good.”
Wongen found the net right away for Tolman when he scored on a breakaway with just 30 seconds passed on the clock. He made it 2-zip off a cross with still plenty of time until the break. But Tolman couldn’t take advantage of the early momentum and managed just six shots on goalie Kory Lawrence in the first half.
“We couldn’t finish today,” Couto admitted. “We had too many opportunities in the first half and if you let a team like this stick around, they are going to make (you) pay. Fortunately, they didn’t.”
Woonsocket trimmed the lead to a goal with Sisovong scoring from just outside the box. The Novans’ midfielder got a perfect pass from senior Matt Moynihan and nearly slid on the field while firing a shot that went to the left of the cage and out of the range of Tolman netminder Adam Ghazal.
The Tigers had at least four other chances to score in the second half, but combined with the Novans’ defense and some shots slightly off the mark forced a tight game to the end.
“This has probably been our toughest game all year,” Couto said. “They are playing well. Today wasn’t their best game, but for the most part they have been playing really well.
Tolman will endure another big test on Thursday when it welcomes Smithfield (5-0-1) to the McKinnon-Alves Soccer Complex.
“We have to improve on what we did today,” Couto said. “If we can finish and our defense plays the way they did, that will give us a chance.”
Woonsocket takes on Cranston East this afternoon, back at Barry Field. Rao’s hoping his squad plays the Thunderbolts like it played Tolman the final 40 minutes.
“It was a much better effort in the second half (today),” he said. “We just got to keep playing at that level and we’ll be okay.”
Tolman 2 0 – 2
Woonsocket 0 1 – 1
First half – 1. T, Manny Wongen (Ahmad El-asmar) :30; 2. T, Wongen (unassisted) 20:00.
Second half - 3. W, Travis Sisovong (Mike Moynihan) 12:00.
Saves – W, Kory Lawrence 8. T, Adam Ghazal 9. Shots – W 10. T 10.