CRANSTON — Shea High shook free from a determined Cumberland team on Monday night at Cranston Stadium and advanced to the Division I state finals for the second straight season with a 3-0 victory over the Clippers.
The Raiders, who lost in the 2010 finals to Barrington, will meet top-ranked La Salle in Saturday’s high noon showdown at Rhode Island College’s pitch. The two teams tied 2-2 during their only regular season meeting.
Shea advanced by converting two direct kicks and a penalty kick for goals against a Cumberland team that kept five defenders back in an effort to neutralize Raider scoring stars Emerson Barros and Joao Cardoso.
“We did a good job with them,” Cumberland coach John Lopes said after the game. “They are both too fast for us to handle so we put a man on each of them and made sure we had help.”
Cumberland, which hoped to get the first goal and then fall back on defense, almost scored midway through the first half when winger Brian Figueroa launched a 35-yard kick from the right corner to the edge of the goal. Shea goaltender Julio Garcia couldn’t get to the ball in heavy traffic and one of the Clippers got a foot on the ball and directed it off the left post.
Shea quickly cleared the ball away.
“If Cumberland had scored that goal, it would have been devastating to us,” Shea coach Pierre Ridore would say later.
The Raiders controlled the ball for most of the first half but couldn’t get past Cumberland’s wall of defenders. That began to change two minutes into the second half as Shea’s Issifou Kankarafou put a strong shot on Clipper keeper Remi Lussier.
A few minutes later, Shea was awarded a direct kick from the 30-yard line after one of its players was pulled to the turf. Cardoso launched a strong shot at the right side of the goal that had too much steam on it for Lussier to handle.
Suddenly it was the Raiders who had the all-important first goal.
“The first half was difficult for us,” Barros admitted, “but once we got the first goal, the game began to open up.”
Shea kept pushing the action as Cumberland began to take chances on the offensive end.
“We continued to try and send our guys in and use our speed to get past their defense,” Kankarafou said.
The strategy, and Shea’s overall edge in talent, paid dividends with two more kicks awarded to the Raiders that resulted in goals. Julio Ramos converted the first from 21 yards out when his perfectly-placed free kick landed on the top right corner of the goal.
Six minutes later, Barros made a breathtaking run of 50 yards down the left side of the field, booting the ball ahead while trying to get past the final line of Cumberland’s defense.
Barros was fouled at the 10-yard line and Shea was awarded a penalty kick. Cardoso took the kick and easily converted for a 3-0 lead with 16:44 left in the game.
Cumberland had two strong scoring chances in the remaining minutes, one on an indirect kick from five yards out, and another when forward Ryan Rei just missed the net on a strong run.
“Shea is a tough team to play,” Lopes said. “We did a great job of slowing them down in the first half. You have to give them credit. Their kicks were nicely taken. That first goal really took the wind out of our sails.”
Ridore agreed with Lopes’s assessment of the game.
“The first goal was critical for us,” he admitted. “I told our kids at halftime that we had to keep pushing and score the first goal. If we did that, the game would open up for us, and it did.”
Shea, now 13-3-4 overall this season, will take on a La Salle team that is 14-1-5 after scoring a 2-0 victory over Barrington in Monday’s opener at Cranston Stadium. This is the matchup more than a few coaches around the league predicted would happen in the D-I finals. It matches two skilled teams that will play a back-and-forth contest. Shea has more speed. La Salle might be more talented and deep.
“I think it will be a magical matchup between the two most technical teams in the state,” LaSalle coach Mario Pereira predicted. “The winner will probably be the team that finds a way to capitalize on the other team’s mistake.”