CANTON, Mass. – Coming off a 4-0 loss to North Attleboro on Tuesday, in a game that head coach Kate Howarth admitted her team was not ready to play, Canton was looking to bring back the intensity and defensive discipline that Howarth demands when it hosted Milford on Saturday night.
The Bulldogs brought back the physical play all over the pitch, stayed composed and organized in the back four, and got a first half strike from Riley Duserick to get back on track with a 1-0 victory over Milford at World War II Veterans Memorial Park.
“This is the first game that we played the way that I’ve taught for the past three years,” said Howarth. When asked if this could be a foundation on which the team could build, the always demanding coach added, “I think they need to.”
The outcome could have been very different if Milford took its early chance. In the 14th minute, Madeline Boyle played a corner from the left that just eluded the far post and was knocked out for a chance from the opposite side. Boyle’s second corner found Nicole Dahlgren alone in the box but her header was blocked on the line. The ball bounced around and a second chance from inside the six was saved by sprawling Canton keeper Kathryn Doody.
“Huge save,” said Howarth. “She time and time again comes up with these big saves and she just puts herself in the right place at the right time and it works. That’s just what she does and she’s done it for three years now.”
Milford coach Jay Mastaj added, “I think that point at time we had the momentum. We were starting to string together a few passes, we had them back on their heels, but again their defense came up including their keeper and that’s what you need.”
The save spurred Canton into action and the Bulldogs midfield started to assert itself, led by Duserick, Julia Hamilton, and Kendra Farrelly. Controlling the middle of the field allowed Canton to get the ball forward to Hannah Link and Tessa Cudmore in the channels and stretch the Milford defense.
It took to the 29th minute for the Bulldogs to create a clear scoring chance and Cudmore played a ball across the edge of the box that was deflected into the path of Duserick. The junior midfielder calmly side-footed a lefty shot inside the far post to break the deadlock.
“It doesn’t matter how much possession you have, how much of the ball, it doesn’t matter how many chances, if you don’t put one in then the game is still 0-0,” Howarth noted. “So, putting that in got us on a different level and we really started pushing after that.”
Canton upped the pressure another gear after the goal and again started to play balls in behind the Milford defenders. Morgan McCabe was nearly in on one chance only for Milford defender Rachel LeBlanc to get across at the last second and block the shot. Cudmore also struck the bar with a cross from the left two minute before the break.
In the second half, Canton started strongly again with Duserick having another shot from outside the box that sailed just over the bar. But Milford slowly grew into the game and had its chances going forward when Mastaj switched to a 4-4-2 to try and get help up front for Kristen Franzini.
Gabbie Riley added another outlet for the Hawks who won a corner that Doody needed to palm away and had a couple of chances that they could not put on target. Canton was finding room on the break and left back Sarah Collins found herself with room in the box to have a shot but it was blocked and center back Sarah Connolly let fly with a long-range shot that went over.
“Their defense kind of bent a few times but didn’t break,” said Mastaj. “We came up with stuff but they found a way and unfortunately luck wasn’t on our side in this one, but overall I was very happy. This was the intensity that we needed.”
The second half was mostly a battle of center backs with Dahlgren on the Milford side and Connolly on the Canton side both stopping attack after attack.
“Nicole since day one has just been a standout for us,” said Mastaj, “and she just continues to get better. Her calm on the field is such an influence on the kids. There’s no panic in her eyes at any point in time and she just plays the right ball.”
After shipping four goals earlier this week, Howarth was pleased to see her defense keep a clean sheet. She said, “This back line was completely different than the North Attleboro game. [Against North] we just came out flat and…we were horrible. When we have a solid back line and we possess out of the back, it’s different, you can tell that we can dominate.”
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