MILFORD, Mass. — Over the past three weeks, both the Milford and Oliver Ames boys soccer teams have rolled through the competition with a barrage of offense.
The Scarlet Hawks entered riding a six-game win streak with 25 goals scored in that span. In that same time frame, Oliver Ames had won seven in a row — apart of an 11-game unbeaten streak to start the season — and poured in 33 goals in that stretch.
So it seemed likely there would be some offensive fireworks when the two met on Wednesday in a clash between Hockomock League division leaders.
Not so fast.
Both defenses were on point as the game played out mainly between the boxes, a midfield battle that went back and forth with chances at a premium because of strong defensive play.
In the end, it was Oliver Ames sophomore Casey Milliken who continued his red-hot scoring streak, scoring the lone goal of the game in the 32nd minute off a service from senior Jake Williams to hand the Tigers a vital 1-0 win on the road.
“Like I tell these guys, we try to build throughout the season and defense is what’s going to win games at the end of the year,” said Oliver Ames head coach John Barata. “The more comfortable we get with team defense, the better off we are. Today, our number one goal — believe it or not — was not to win but to play great team defense to build to something. Getting the result and playing great team defense is a bonus.”
Williams anchored the OA back four alongside classmate Hector Bucio, with junior Diego Rivera playing outside on the left and sophomore Jackson Mercieri patrolling the right side. Sophomore Luke Churchill sat at the six atop the backline.
“They’ve grown a lot,” Barata said. “They play off of each other well, they support each other. One steps, one drops…they talk to each other a lot, and they’re yelling when it’s needed. And the glue to it all is Luke. He allows them to take some chances, allows them to go up for a head ball they might not normally because Luke is so massive at winning that second ball.”
After a tentative opening 20 minutes, Milford registered the first genuine scoring chance in the 23rd minute. A long throw from Arthur Tome was partially cleared by the Tigers but only as far as Milford senior Nick Ribeiro, who didn’t have time to put a lot on his shot but unleashed one that got through the defense only to hit the post and stay out.
Minutes later, sophomore Rodrigo Lorenzo carried possession into the attack and linked up with Ribeiro who quickly switched fields to John Borges. Borges uncorked a shot that was deflected high and nearly found its way to the top corner but was swatted away by OA keeper Drew Hall. On the ensuing corner, Ribeiro found Kaua Pereira but he flashed a header wide.
“We got a bit lucky that [Eduardo] Santana (12 goals, six assists) was out on a red card because he changes their dynamics in the middle however, I still feel like we didn’t give them many chances. Hector and Jake were both beasts in the back. Diego was amazing against Borges all game, and then Jackson, just a sophomore and a converted back, played well. And Luke — diligent, smart — they all played great.”
Oliver Ames finally cracked the Milford defense in the 32nd minute. A long throw in from sophomore Andrew Martins was parried away by Milford keeper Lucas Fernandes but was tracked down by Mercieri near the top of the box. He played it back to Williams and he lofted a service over the defense as they were pulling up. Milliken timed his run perfectly to get in behind and flicked a perfect header past the keeper to make it 1-0.
The goal came just a minute after Milliken was moved up top to the striker spot after spending the opening 30 minutes in his usual midfield spot.
“To be able to go from a false 10 to the nine and at the perfect moment, sneak in between the center backs at the perfect time when the ball is played for the header,” Barata said. “It makes it look like we know what we’re doing but the kid is gifted and it was a great ball in.”
Defense was the story in the second half as chances were limited by both sides. Milford’s back four of Kevin Barbosa, Lucas Nalon Ribero, Nate Dinis, and Pereira stifled the OA attack for the most part.
Meanwhile, OA’s defensive group continued to thwart any momentum that the Hawks tried to generate getting forward.
Hall handled a low shot from Borges in the 47th minute and Fernandes was in the right spot to take in a one-timer from Milliken in the 53rd minute. The next chance didn’t come for nearly 20 minutes.
“Defensively they were sound,” Milford head coach Antonio Pinto said of Oliver Ames. “They worked together — everywhere that ball went, all four shifted over together. I’ve watched OA play quite a few times this year and I don’t think I’ve seen Hector lose an aerial battle or a ground battle, he’s all over the place. Arthur was trying to give them problems but they’d bring two guys on him. They’ve only allowed seven goals this year…you can tell why.
“Usually we rely on our offense but our defense really kept us in the game today. This was the first time I was able to see our defense limit some skillful guys so it was good to see.”
Fernandes got low and to the near post to tip away a free kick bid from Milliken in the 70th minute, the last serious chance for either side.
“It was a big midfield battle for today,” Barata said. “We were looking for the through balls, they were looking for the through balls, both teams were trying to get it wide, Ribeiro was looking to get in, Casey was looking to get in. I knew it was going to be a ball over the top and someone breaking into negative space that would win the game. We got lucky it was us to be fair because they could have pulled it off.”
Oliver Ames boys soccer (10-0-2 overall, 10-0-1 Hockomock) moves within two points of clinching at least a share of the Davenport title. The Tigers travel to Stoughton on Friday to play the Black Knights, who are the only team to take a point from OA this season. Milford (8-4-1, 7-3-1), who is now two points back in the Kelley-Rex, will host Attleboro on the same day. The Bombardiers, who are tied with the Hawks in second place, won the first meeting, 4-0.
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