PAWTUCKET — Given the way the Division I contest between Central Falls and Tolman highs took shape – that is, with officials whistling players from both sides for a total of four yellow cards and one red – it's amazing how Warriors' mentor Carl Africo and Tigers' head coach Jack Couto praised to the hilt how well their opponents played.
“Their goalkeeper (junior Adam Ghazal) had an outstanding game,” Africo claimed after Central Falls held off a late Tolman surge to eke out a 2-1 victory at the McKinnon-Alves Complex on Tuesday night. “He made three or four phenomenal, quality saves in the first 15 minutes alone, then made a few more in the second half.
“It really was a great game, period; it was one that got sidetracked,” he added. “I thought we kept our composure, in spite of … I thought Tolman kept it's composure, in spite of ...”
When asked why he believed so many cards were issued for seemingly minimal infractions took place, Africo stated, “No comment.”
As for Couto's take on the amount of “blatant” fouls, he merely offered, “It doesn't matter if it's Tolman-CF or Tolman-Shea, you expect it be like this – physical and aggressive. A lot of these guys play with or against each other in youth soccer, or for premier or travel teams. That being the case, they want to win. It's for bragging rights.
“I thought CF just played better than we did; they did a nice job of moving the ball against us,” he continued. “Over the past few games, it's like we're only playing 40 minutes instead of the full 80. We played well in the second half, but we started so slow. You can't do that against a premier team like CF.”
With the triumph, the Warriors improved to 10-4-3 overall and 8-2-3 in league play, but will be without junior midfielder and quad-captain Brian Figueroa for its last home match against South Kingstown at 6 p.m., Friday. One referee issued him a red card for an unknown foul in approximately the 67th minute, and must sit out his own “Senior Night.”
As for Tolman, which celebrated the devotion of its seniors at halftime of its last remaining regular-season tilt at McKinnon-Alves home, it dropped to 5-5-3 overall and in D-I. The way Couto figures it, his Tigers need to win or tie at Central at 4:15 p.m., Thursday to clinch the state tourney's No. 8 seed and grab a home playoff game.
In the end, senior quad-captain Cristian Rodrigues and classmate Stiven Monteiro each closed with a goal and an assist in the verdict. In fact, the Warriors dominated the opening half, outshooting the Tigers, 8-1.
And they started fast. Just 30 seconds into the first stanza, senior Julio Monroy took advantage of a defensive miscue and drilled a 15-yard shot at net, but it caromed off the left post. In the third minute, senior Freddy Monteiro booted a nice through ball to his brother Stiven, and the latter unleashed a try at Ghazal, who made a diving stop.
Not quite five minutes later, Figueroa ripped a high, 25-yard direct kick from the left side while two teammates hustled down to the left post, but Ghazal leaped to knock the ball away. In about the 11th minute, Stiven Monteiro raced down the right portion of Tolman territory on a breakaway, but senior defender Ruben Cano caught him and, while falling, drove the ball away.
By the 15th minute, CF had three shots on net, one hit the post and three more just sailed over the bar, but it had nothing to show for it – until …
In the 19th minute, Stiven drilled an attempt at Ghazal, and he made another sterling save, but the ball bounced out to Rodrigues, and he promptly tucked the rebound inside the right post to give the Warriors a 1-0 lead.
It looked as if CF may make it a two-goal cushion in the 32nd minute, when senior Jhony Gonzalez whacked a 22-yard direct kick from the left side at net, though Ghazal banged that away. Six minutes after, Tolman sophomore striker Corey Chantre received a yellow card, one for an apparent excessive slide tackle.
“It takes us forever to get going,” Couto said afterward. “Our defense carried us, and that's the way it's been for the last four or five games. Our offense has struggled since the Shea game (a 2-1 Tigers win). It's almost like they have to be down, 1-0 or 2-0, to wake up and say, 'Hey, we're playing a game here!' If you do that in the playoffs, you're going to be done in the first round.”
Africo's bunch didn't need long to snatch a 2-0 advantage. In the fifth minute, Rodrigues knocked a pretty right-to-left feed at Stiven Monteiro, and he used his left foot to slide the ball past a prone Ghazal.
That's when the Tigers, however, picked it up a notch. Approximately two minutes later, senior defender Carlos Sanabria launched a direct kick deep down the left side, and junior midfielder Sebastian Estrada ripped a try from the left side at senior quad-captain Juan Patino, though the goalie deflected it.
Fellow junior Ibrahima Male then unleashed a left corner kick toward the goal in the 13th minute, but Patino leaped for the save.
Tolman finally got on the board in the 56th minute. Sanabria – who exhibited superb defense all day, as did Cano and sophomore Ahmad El-Asmar – drilled a 35-yard direct boot toward the net, and Patino made the initial save, but senior midfielder Anderson Monteiro pounced on the rebound and poked it past Patino to slice its deficit to 2-1.
At the 65th-minute mark, CF had a chance to re-gain the two-goal lead when Gonzalez drove a direct kick from the left side through defenders at Rodrigues, who rifled his eight-yard attempt at Ghazal; he poked it away once more.
Not quite two minutes later, an official called Figueroa for the red card, and the Tigers played the last 13 minutes with a man advantage. The closest they came to knotting it was in the 73rd minute, when sophomore Ronaldinho Tavares fired a left-side try at goal. Patino leaped for the stop.
Ghazal finished with 13 saves, while Patino managed six.
“Adam's been playing that way all season; he's come up big for us in a lot of games,” Couto acknowledged. “Honestly, if we didn't have him back there, we'd probably have one win on the season. It's almost like our guys are getting used to what he's doing.
“Our defense has carried our team as well,” he added. “Like I said, our offense has been struggling … After the game, I just told our kids to keep their heads up. We played well in the second half, but we started so slowly.”
Noted Africo, who also praised his defense, namely senior quad-captain Peter Santos and classmate Christian Ruano: “I thought Tolman played great. It wasn't just their keeper. They were playing for a home playoff game. They played with all their hearts and left everything on the field. They should be commended.
“Actually, both teams should be,” he continued. “Both played hard and wanted to win. We're glad to escape here with a victory.”