But after losing three of its first five games, Milford has completely turned it around and is now the hottest team in the Hockomock League. The Hawks pushed their unbeaten streak to nine and winning streak to five with a 2-0 blanking of Attleboro on Monday afternoon and now sit in first place with three games to go.
“Hard work and unity,” Milford head coach Antonio Pinto said of what has changed since the beginning of the season. “The kids didn’t give up on each other. Especially when we were 0-2, we have really good leaders on this team that rallied everyone together. We have four great captains and even guys that aren’t captains, they pulled everyone together.”
The streak starting with a shutout win over North Attleboro on September 27th, continued with three straight draws, and now the Hawks have won five straight games, including back-to-back wins over Mansfield and Attleboro — the former the team just two points behind in the standings and the latter just three points behind.
“On the field, everything has improved,” Pinto said. “We knew we’d be a competitive team, we didn’t expect to dominate but we want to compete with every team in the state. We’re ready to play no matter who the opponent is. As a whole, even after the first results, we kept our heads.”
Milford applied pressure right out of the gate, registering their first goal-scoring chance just over five minutes in. The Hawks cashed in twice in the opening 40 minutes and senior goalie Kevin Gomes came up with a trio of terrific saves to earn the shutout in net.
The teams traded chances in the first half but it was the hosts who took advantage of their opportunities.
Avi Seri connected with Eduardo Santana with a pass out of the back and Santana turned and played a diagonal ball through to John Borges but Attleboro sophomore keeper Tyler Rocchio reacted well off his line, coming up with his first of many big saves to deny Milford.
Attleboro came back down the other way just three minutes later as sophomore Alex Vecchioli played a nice ball in for Liam Bischoff but Milford senior defender Chris Tocci did well to deny any chance.
Bill Silva launched a ball down the left sideline for Arthur Tome, who was able to go at the defender one-on-one and was fouled in the box as he cut towards the touchline. Tocci stepped up and buried a low shot to the keeper’s right for a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute.
It looked like the Bombardiers would pull level just two minutes later as Vecchioli, known for his left foot, unleashed a blast from distance off his right foot but Gomes made a terrific leaping one-handed parry over the bar to preserve the lead.
Eight minutes later it was Milford’s turn for a big chance. Junior Nick Ribeiro played a service into the area that was misplayed by the defense, giving Santana an open look from in close but his shot was right at Roccio, who did a nice job to hold on and prevent any rebound opportunity.
Attleboro senior Esvin Morales looked to pull even with what has become a signature move of his. With an attacking free kick about 25 yards out, Morales — who has scored twice doing this — shot it quickly before the wall was set but Gomes was quick to react and made a diving save to keep it out. On the ensuing corner, Vecchioli’s header was gobbled up by Gomes.
Milford doubled its lead with less than five minutes to play in the opening half. The play started in their own defensive third as senior Alex Siqueira played it quickly to classmate Christian Dinis on the right way. Dinis went central to Tome, who played a ball through behind the defense to Dylan Borr and the junior tucked away his low shot past the oncoming charging keeper into the far post for a 2-0 lead.
The first 20 minutes of the second half was mostly played between the boxes but with time at a premium and facing a two-goal deficit, Attleboro started to push more numbers forward to try and create chances.
Morales dropped a free kick in the area in the 58th that fell to Chris Russo but the senior didn’t get enough on his shot and it went wide. Two minutes later, Vecchioli curved a free kick around the wall but Gomes made a terrific diving save to keep it out.
The chances continued in the 62nd minute when Vecchioli kept the ball in play down the left flank and centered for Kyle Neuendorf but Seri came through with a key intervention to deny a chance.
“I always have a lot of confidence in our back line,” Pinto said. “Sometimes they scare me a little because they can take a few too many touches, they’ll take it past players…but at the end of the day, they get it done, they get their job done.
“And Kevin is an extraordinary keeper, made two or three great saves. [Vecchioli] can hit with both feet and had two great shots from outside and Kevin came up with a save each time. And props to their keeper [Rocchio] too, he made some great saves too.”
Attleboro’s Toby Smith made a great hustle play to keep the deficit at two in the 65th minute. Ribeiro connected with Dinis, who made a nice run out the back, but Smith came across the field to intercept the play and clear.
Junior Lucas Marques held possession in the attacking third, switching the play to the right side for a service from Neuendorf that was met by a header from Yianni Skordas but the shot was just off target.
“We worked hard in the second half,” said Attleboro head coach Peter Pereira. “They got their breaks and they capitalized in the first half. Unfortunately a penalty, that can throw a team off a little bit. And then they got a late goal in the first half, that was a dagger. It took us a while to get going in the second half, [Milford] has great ball possession, which is difficult to try and take it away.
“The last 20 minutes we pushed some people up to create some breaks and their goalie made some good saves. [Rocchio] made some good ones too. We knew it was going to be a battle but they played a little bit better soccer than we did.”
Milford controls its own destiny with three of its four final games against division foes, and two of those games are at home. But even with a two-point lead entering the final stretch, Pinto says the focus isn’t on another division title.
“These guys aren’t worried about a division title right now, they aren’t worried about the standings, they just come out each time ready to play,” Pinto said. “They love to play soccer and they treat each game like a final. Each game is as big as the one before it.”
Milford boys soccer (8-3-2 Hockomock, 9-3-2 overall) returns to action on Wednesday when it hosts King Philip. Attleboro (6-3-3, 6-4-3) will look to bounce back on the same day when it hosts Taunton.