CENTRAL FALLS — Tolman High head coach Jack Coutu chose not to play senior goalie and quad-captain Adam Ghazal long before the start of the Tigers' R.I. Injury Fund “game” against archrival Shea on Friday night.
He did so as a precaution, not to mention a safety measure.
“I was worried about the field,” Coutu indicated of the uneven, dusty Macomber Stadium surface minutes before the scrimmage, one designed to raise money for the Rhode Island Interscholastic League for injury/insurance reasons and also give squads statewide an opportunity to face live competition.
“This games means nothing; Adam is still coming off an ACL injury, one he tore in a playoff game against South Kingstown last year,” he added. “As long as he's ready to play SK in the season opener (on Friday, Sept. 6), that's all I care about. He's a premier goalie.”
Despite a 1-0 loss to the Raiders, Coutu liked what he saw from his crew, which should battle usual Division I stalwarts Central Falls, Barrington, Portsmouth, North Kingstown and Shea for the top few spots and a playoff berth once the campaign begins.
“I was just hoping to see improvement from our scrimmage against Moses Brown on Tuesday,” Coutu stated after the tilt, the first of a “twinbill” (Central Falls edged Providence Country Day, 2-1, in the nightcap). “We're trying to get better each and every day. The good news was I didn't see the same mistakes I had against (the Quakers).
“I thought (senior quad-captains) Sebastian Estrada and Ibrahima Maie played great in the midfield, which is a new position for both of them,” he continued. “I was very impressed with them, and the team as a whole played well. We lost five starters from last year, and – in soccer – that's a lot. We'll see how the kids do as the season progresses.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs, as always. We need to improve from game to game, and also practice to practice. Overall, I'm pleased.”
In Injury Fund contests, regardless of the foes or the sites, each team plays 20-minute halves; the idea is to prepare all for the rigors of competitive action.
On this night, the Tigers held the Raiders at bay until the 18th minute; that's when sophomore defender Sergio Lopes drilled a high, 35-yard liner over the head of junior Andres Cordoba and under the crossbar for the game's lone tally.
It seemed Tolman would even the score approximately seven minutes into the final half after Maie ripped a right corner kick at Shea junior keeper Alex Andrade, but the ball rolled through the box. Two hustling Tigers failed to place a foot on it.
Cordoba, by the way, faced eight shots and closed with seven saves. Andrade finished with a pair.
“We lost two defensive starters last year to graduation, and we're trying to replace them, so I'm expecting a lot from (seniors) Kyle Martins and Calle,” Coutu noted. “I'm hoping to see big things from both of them.”
As for veteran Shea mentor Pierre Ridore, he wanted to see progress from his squad – and did.
“I wanted us to move the ball well, not to hold it and wait for a defender to get on them, and for our players to find the open spaces,” he said. “I told them beforehand to move the ball, have some fun and try to build some chemistry.
“The first 20 minutes (one in which the Raiders outshot their rivals, 6-1) weren't that great,” he added. “We didn't seem in sync, but as we relaxed and calmed down, we moved the ball more strongly … I would say our center midfielders (seniors Edson Ferrer and Michael Lopes) definitely got better. I thought they built some chemistry, especially since this is their first year there. They played defense last year.
“They're starting to learn how to play that position, and it showed as the game progressed.”
Last season, Ridore's bunch dropped a decision to upset-minded Cumberland in the Division I quarterfinals, and he'd desperately like to see his team make a deeper run.
“If we keep playing together and learning how to play as a team, not individually, I believe we can go far,” Ridore indicated. “It all depends on how hard they're willing to work. They're doing that now, so if that attitude and worth ethic continues, we should be alright.”
In the Warriors' tilt against PCD, they outshot the Knights, 13-3; they nevertheless faced a 1-0 halftime deficit. With about seven minutes left in that initial stanza, senior Tom Horvatt whacked a low shot at junior Sergio Riveria, who allowed it to squire through his legs.
On the positive side, CF dominated the second session with eight shots, and two found the back of the net.
With 12:50 left in regulation, senior quad-captain Alexi Flores delivered a superb pass from the left at fellow captain Jean Urquiza, but Tucker Wray dove to his right and poked it outside the left post.
Just 10 seconds later, junior striker Keller Pina evened the score when his poke deflected off a Knight.
Classmate Kember Garcia assisted on the tally.
The Warriors claimed the lead for good about 60 ticks later, when Urquiza roped a feed from Flores past Wray (six saves).
“I wanted to see the kids move the ball, counter-attack, position themselves well and attack the net, but there wasn't much of that in the first half,” CF head coach Carl Africo mentioned. “I told the kids at the break they had to shoot more. They were looking for the pretty goal instead of putting it on net.
“When they scored (off of Riveria), that was just a keeper error,” he added. “It went five-hole … I also wanted to see how our kids played this field. This is the first time this year we've been on it, and it doesn't have the same width as we're used to. It's only at about 60 yards, and I like to play on a 120 (yard) by 80 (yard) field to utilize our quickness.
He claimed the reason for the slight shortening was because of the baseball mound closest to the east goal, the same side in which the Warriors opened the game.
“Once we switched sides, we were able to open it more, play more to our style,” he stated. “I thought every one of our kids played well. If there's one thing I can say, most years – at the Division I open meeting – coaches will say that CF lost too many seniors, and would be down. In years past, we usually go about 14 deep in terms of quality players, with the rest being functional subs.
“This year, I have at least 17,” he continued. “I have a group of four strikers, and I could start any two and be happy with the result. The same goes for our seven midfielders. I could play any four, and know I'd see solid play.”
He nevertheless admitted one weakness could be in net. Both senior Jonathan Ortiz (one save in final half) and junior Riveria (two) have some experience, but not as much as Africo would like.
“We're not going to lack for goals, that's for sure; we just have to prevent them,” he acknowledged. “This team has a puncher's chance. Last year, we lost an All-New England goal scorer in Cristian Rodriguez, who had 25 (goals), and also Stiven Monteiro, who had another 20 and was All-State as well.
“I've seen Tolman and Shea play, and also La Salle and Barrington; they're always right in there. North Kingstown and South Kingstown are always tough, and it seems Portsmouth has our number. They're very well-coached, and they find a way to beat us. We'll have to see how much these guys improve, and also how badly they want to make a run.”