Sports editor emeritus
PAWTUCKET — When Central Falls and Shea square off on a soccer field, goals are usually hard to come by.
“We can score goals with anyone in the state,” C.F. coach Carl Africo was saying on Tuesday afternoon, minutes after his Warriors scored a 1-0 victory over the Raiders, “but when we play Shea, I know it’s going to be a low-scoring game. They fight for every inch of the field.”
And that’s how this game between two intense rivals played out. Players contested every loose ball. They bounced off one another and sometimes knocked each other to the ground while straining to reach the ball. They deftly dribbled past one or two defenders before losing the ball to the other side. The action quickly moved up and down Max Read Field, taking a few yards at a time, stopping only for a short referee’s whistle and then an almost immediate resumption of play.
Neither team established any dominance. Legitimate shots on goal were few and far between.
Following a scoreless first half, Central Falls got the match’s lone goal seven minutes into the second half when a diving Alexis Verdin headed a corner kick from captain Alexi Flores past Shea goalie Wilson Delgado Fernandes.
“Alexis has 10 goals this season and all of them have come on headers,” Africo admitted. “He’s a defenseman who we move up to the front line on corners and other situations where we have a chance to score.”
“We knew about him,” Shea coach Pierre Ridore said, “but we didn’t cover him very well on that corner. You have to give him (Verdin) credit. He made a great effort on the play.”
So did Flores, who nailed a strong corner across the penalty box, giving Verdin a chance to change the game in a split-second.
Africo recently moved Flores from midfield to striker and is pleased with the result.
“Alexi would be all-state at midfield,” the coach said, “but we need to move him up front. The kid really understands the game. He is playing with a bad hip right now, which makes what he has done even more impressive.”
Central Falls came into this Division I contest having scored 25 goals while going 3-3-1 in its first seven league games. The Warriors had also yielded an uncharacteristically high 20 goals.
“We had some goalkeeper issues early in the season,” Africo said, “but I think Jonatan Ortiz has quieted things down back there.”
Ortiz made three saves and showed good mobility in goal. Shea spent plenty of time in C.F.’s end of the field while using the creative ball skills of midfielders Edson Ferrer and Carlos Fernandes to control the middle of the field. The Raiders just lacked the finishing skills to complete their passing and dribbling forays.
“We’re not playing together on offense,” Ridore said. “We are not a team yet. We are now 3-4-0 in league play. In my time as coach at Shea, we have never lost this many games so early in the season.”
The Raiders are heading into a critical part of their schedule. They visit Central and Hendricken for their next two games, then come home on Oct. 11 to face unbeaten Barrington in a 6 p.m. contest.
Central Falls, now 4-3-1, is in better position to make a run at the playoffs.
“We were overscheduled (with strong opponents) early,” said Africo, whose team lost 1-0 to Barrington and 3-1 to Hendricken before dropping a wild 8-6 match to Hope High in mid-September. The Warriors have now won four matches in a row after going 0-3-1 to begin the league season.
“We still have a chance to get the fourth seed in the playoffs,” the coach said.
The Warriors will host Portsmouth in their next game on Friday evening at 6:30 p.m.