The Hawks are one of the top offenses in the league with a handful of skilled players that can break down opposing defenses at will at times. On the flip side, the Rocketeers emphasize defense first with plenty of numbers behind the ball and then look to hit on the counter.
The game played out accordingly as Milford controlled the majority of possession but didn’t create a ton of chances against North’s strong defense. And the Rocketeers’ best chances came counter trying to get in behind the Hawks’ defense.
The difference came just moments into the second half as Milford capitalized on a North Attleboro miscue defensively to score the only goal and grab a 1-0 win on the road.
“Kudos to Geoff [Burgess], his team is so well-coached and so well organized, you have to be on your toes the entire game,” said Milford head coach Brian Edwards. “If you make one mistake, they will capitalize. We were fortunate they didn’t score on that header right before half, and if they do it’s 1-0 and we probably don’t win that game.
“They are a really tough team to move the ball against. They are athletic, they are disciplined, they don’t give you any good chances. They all communicate well and they all tackle well. That’s the best team we’ve seen all year easily.”
The best chance for each side in the opening half came in the final five minutes. Junior Leo Coelho connected with senior Pedro Araujo, and the Hawks’ striker played the ball wide for freshman Nick Ribeiro. Ribeiro got to the ball first, beating the keeper lower but his shot clanked off the near post and his rebound bid went over the bar.
North nearly struck in the 40th minute when senior Joey Coscarella whipped in a cross from the right sideline and classmate Matt Mordini elevated over his defender but his header was just off target to keep the game scoreless.
After a lack of real chances in the first half, Milford came out in the second half and had three real good chances. Milford capitalized on the first one, just seconds in, as Araujo pounced on an errant pass between North defenders, getting just enough on his shot to North keeper Kyle Briere and the ball trickled over the line for the lone goal.
“You know what they want to do, but we know what we are and we’re a team that’s best going forward,” Edwards said. “We trust our players to not make a mistake that will let them punish us. We weren’t going to change how we play because of their game, we just made some adjustments. They really force you to be focused the entire game.
“They give you some space and you want to take that extra touch, and you want to try and break them down, but sometimes it’s really difficult when you have that space because you fall into that trap. But I thought we did a good enough job today, even without getting many quality chances. They always have three or four guys behind the ball so its tough to create a lot.”
Milford’s offense got some life from the goal as Coelho was able to create some space and rip a left-footed blast that was just high, clanking off the football goal post and bouncing into the net. And in the 43rd minute, Lucas Da Silva took a pass from Coelho and blasted a shot from inside the area but it was wide at the far post.
North Attleboro coach Geoff Burgess called a timeout to relax his squad, and the break worked out as the Rocketeers returned to form, with a stingy defense and wing players streaking down the sideline on the counter.
Coscarella combined with classmate James Sales, playing Sales in behind the defense but Milford keeper Kevin Gomes was quick off his line to thwart the bid. The duo combined again five minutes later but the shot rolled wide.
“I thought after the start of the second half, I thought we upped our level of play,” Burgess said. “We had one mistake [defensively]. We had a couple of chances with through balls, with Sales and Coscarella linking up, and the offsides call was pretty close. Those were three great chances there. I don’t think too many teams are breaking down them like that because they have the four backs plus the holding [midfielder] in front.”
Briere did well to come off his line in the 65th minute to deny a connection from Coelho to Araujo, forcing the shot to go wide.
The Rocketeers thought they had the equalizer in the 66th minute as Matt Conley laid a pass off for Sales, who beat the keeper, but it was ruled Sales was in an offside position.
“Our mantra is stay disciplined, keep the ball in front, intercept passes, and get out on the break,” Burgess said. “That was what we did tonight, and you saw, once we get rolling we can be pretty dangerous. We just have to put it in the back of the net.”
Both teams had chances in the final moments as Araujo flashed a header wide a the near post after a service from Gabe Alvarenga for Milford, Conley had his header go over the bar off a free kick from Andrew Tolfa, and North defender Jeremy Folan won a key challenge in the box in the final minute.