EAST GREENWICH — There are strength in numbers for sure on the soccer pitch, to which East Greenwich High will attest.
The Avengers consistently flooded the penalty box area with defenders, forming a protective cocoon that allowed goalie Oscar Goodwin to thrive while simultaneously left Tolman High’s array of skill players singing the blues.
True, E.G. was able to dodge several bullets, but by and large its strategy worked in a 1-0 victory Monday night in the Division II semifinals at Carcieri Field, located on the Avengers’ campus. The evening ended with Tolman’s Calvin DeOliveira on the verge of a throw-in as teammates jockeyed for position in front of Goodwin. Alas the whistle sounded, signaling that East Greenwich was on its way to the championship game, set for Saturday afternoon at Rhode Island College.
Tolman finished with more shots (11 compared to six for East Greenwich) and clearly had more quality scoring chances than its opponent. As Tigers head coach Jack Couto noted afterwards, it just wasn’t his team’s night.
“We couldn’t finish. We had four or five good chances in the first half. In the second half, I don’t think the ball went over midfield too often” Couto said. “We dominated the game, but that’s the way soccer is.”
The lone goal in the game was the result of a corner kick by East Greenwich’s Anthony Melnick, whose booming ball at 14:08 of the first half was met with confusion and bewilderment on the part of Tolman. Goalie Adam Ghazal was shielded by his own defender, which in turn limited his ability to make a clean play on the ball.
The end result was a top-corner goal and a 1-0 Avenger lead.
“He (Ghazal) misjudged it and it went through his hands and over him,” Couto said. “It was one of those fluke goals, but what are you going to do? It’s soccer.”
Like Couto noted, the Tigers had plenty of chances in the opening 40 minutes to not only draw even but also take the lead. Leading scorer Manny Wongen was able to split the double team but his shot was deflected at the last second by a hustling East Greenwich defender. Another first-half bid saw Sebastian Chavez break in before Goodwin decided to come out and challenge the play. The Avenger goalie calmly gathered the line drive, yet another shining example of just how close the Tigers were.
It was also an example of how content East Greenwich was with playing with a one-goal lead. Instead of looking to extend the lead, the Avengers were more than willing to let its defense carry the day.
Part of the reason why E.G. head coach Pat McGuirl opted to play things close to the vest was due to the speed advantage he believed Tolman possessed.
“They’re a fast team,” said McGuirl. “Tolman is a good team. They’re well-coached but we’re happy to be where we are.”
Through all of the futbol follies that pervaded the pitch – each side received a yellow card – the meeting between Div. II-South champion Avengers and the Tigers, the second seed from the North, was a doozy from start to finish. As hard as Tolman tried to force the issue, East Greenwich was right there to clear the ball away. Whether it was corner kicks, direct kicks or scrums down low, the Tigers found out just how tough the Avengers are.
“I think they had only had one forward up there [in the second half], plus two or three guys on Manny,” Couto said. “They would just pack it in, get the ball and boot it out and that’s it.”
It was clear that the explosive Wongen was not operating at full tilt – not after suffering an apparent groin injury in last Friday’s shootout win against Middletown.
“He wasn’t 100 percent but he gave us what he could,” said Couto. “He played and that’s it. No excuses.”
Despite the disappointing conclusion to what will go into the books as a 14-2-2 season for Tolman, Couto opted to focus on the positives. “It was a great season. If you could have told me coming in that we’d end up with the record that we did, I wouldn’t have believed you. They worked hard from the first day on and got to the semifinals. There’s nothing to be upset about.”