NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – When the calendar turns to October, teams start keeping an eye on their rivals in the league standings and two points become even more important. North Attleboro started the night just three points back of Davenport-leading Canton, which was playing second place Milford, so the Rocketeers understood the importance of two points on Thursday night at Beaupre Field.
North dominated the first half, scoring twice, and then held off a Foxboro charge after the break, keeping the Warriors off the board until the final two minutes of the game, to walk away with a 2-1 victory that moves within one of the Bulldogs and Hawks in the league standings.
“Especially going forward, we’ve got an idea where we want to go with it now,” said North coach Geoff Burgess. “We have a plan and in the first half we executed it really well. We were able to counter them quickly, with speed.”
The hosts took that to heart on Thursday and gave an early warning to the Foxboro defense when Joe Hilf played Matt Conley in behind the Foxboro left back just two minutes into the game. There was contact, but not enough for the official to give the penalty. Hilf almost opened the scoring a minute later but dragged his shot from the edge of the box just wide.
Both teams settled into their styles after that, with North loading the midfield and looking for the quick outlet in transition and the Warriors trying to play out of the back. It was the Rocketeers that controlled the action in the opening half, limiting Foxboro to only a couple of weak shots on goal and constantly putting pressure on the visitors’ back line.
Hilf sparked North into the lead after 19 minutes. He made a long run down the far sideline, rode a sliding challenge from Brian Gardner, and got free on the right side of the box. His cut back into Conley was blocked by a couple of Warriors but the ball popped out to Alex Pfeffer in the middle and he side-footed his shot into the empty net.
Just four minutes later and the Rocketeers doubled the lead. This time it was Matt Mordini that got free down the right channel. The junior cut it back into middle for Hilf, who was left free on the edge of the box, and he hit it first time into the far corner.
Foxboro’s best look of the opening half fell to Shane Vandenboom, who hit the outside side-netting with a curling effort from 18 yards. It was about all the North defense gave up in the opening half, as center backs Evan Rosenberg and Gavin O’Malley kept the Warriors out of dangerous areas.
“They’re a great partnership,” said Burgess. “Evan especially, he was JV last year, didn’t play a minute, and I think he’s now one of the best center backs in the league. The way he plays positionally, he’s always covering in the right places, he’s quarterbacking the team.”
Foxboro coach Joe Franchino admitted, “Everybody was just on their own page…We weren’t shooting in the first half, just lumping balls in and playing right into their hands.”
In the 29th minute, North could have put the game away when James Sales’ free kick from 28 yards came back off the crossbar. Hilf almost sealed the win in the 35th minute when he nodded a long clearance by right back James Bush past his marker and got a free run on goal, but his shot went over the bar.
“He had a really good matchup in the first half,” Burgess said of Hilf. “Normally, I’d yell at him for trying to flick it snd take it himself but I think he realized that it was probably the right play. Everything kind of revolves around a target and he’s embraced that.”
Foxboro needed to make some changes at halftime and came out with more intensity, but Hilf nearly hit the Warriors on the counter when his clever dummy beat his marker, but Foxboro keeper Nick Penders was out quick to smother it.
The visitors started to get a foothold going forward, particularly through midfielder Joe Cusack, who kept popping up in between the lines and finding pockets of space where he could dictate play. He had Foxboro’s first good look that went just wide.
Chances started to flow for the Warriors. A throw-in from the left found Vandenboom, who laid it off for Daniel Basler, but his shot from 20 yards went high. A minute later, a long free kick from Daniel Lowey found Dylan Barreira’s head in the box and he nodded it down to Nic Beigel but the shot was saved.
Barreira also forced North keeper Kyle Briere into a save with a 28-yard free kick. Briere made his best stop just a few minutes later to deny Cusack at full stretch at the midway point of the half. It kept Foxboro off the board when the Warriors were clearly on top in the game.
Burgess said of his keeper, “Kyle is this great safety blanket we have because he does come up with the good when we need him to. Today he was mostly calm but he had that one good one.”
Cusack had a free kick from just outside of the box that was saved comfortably and Foxboro nearly fashioned an opener with five minutes left when Matt Garcia played the ball through to Barreira, whose header found Vandenboom but he couldn’t keep his shot down.
“Even at Franklin, we go down a goal, two goals, and we’re trying to fight back into the game,” Franchino said. “The game’s only 80 minutes long, so you’ve got to start quicker and it’s just not happening right now.”
North had one more chance with a late free kick that was played straight across the box by Joey Coscarella, but Pfeffer couldn’t put his shot on frame when he met it at the far post.
Foxboro did get one to make for an interesting final two minutes. Beigel’s free kick from the left corner of the box went through a sea of bodies in front, and possibly got a touch off a North defender, before sneaking in the far side. But, it turned out to be only a consolation for the Warriors.
“The loss Friday to Canton woke us up a little bit,” said Burgess. “We lost 3-1 but in the second half we had four almost breakaways and didn’t convert on any of them. It was very much a winnable game but I think they realized if they don’t go out and actually put the ball in the back of the net, 0-0 isn’t going to get it done.”