After graduating over a dozen players and nearly the entire starting lineup, it looked like the Tigers’ grasp of division supremacy might be at risk.
But as Oliver Ames showed in its season opener on the road at Canton, the Tigers aren’t quite ready to give up their spot at the top.
The Tigers jumped all over the Bulldogs from the opening whistle, scoring less than five minutes in and adding two more in the second half to secure an impressive 3-0 result.
“I think the guys were really ready to play on Thursday and then we got canceled so there was definitely some anticipation, some build up going into tonight,” said Oliver Ames head coach John Barata. “It’s no longer about the previous teams, these are the guys are taking it pretty seriously. I thought we caught Canton early, maybe a little bit surprised at how we played. I don’t think we’ll surprise them next time but I’ll take any points this year anywhere we can get them.”
OA took the opening kickoff and dumped a long ball into the attacking third, getting bodies forward to pin Canton back. It worked as the Bulldogs were unable to build out of the back and OA took control of the possession and the game.
A minute later, Linhares drove a corner to the far post where freshman Casey Milliken was located but his header hit off the top of the crossbar and stayed out.
The Tigers finally broke through in the fourth minute when Linhares carried down the right sideline before sliding a low cross into the area. The ball was deflected up and Neau was in the right spot, looping a header over the keeper and into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
“We had that conversation about the butterflies and the nerves yesterday,” Barata said, noting the Tigers had five underclassmen in the starting lineup. “They were almost overexcited yesterday in training, our shots were off, our passes weren’t crisp. As you saw, we’re going to try and play a little bit whereas people probably thought we’d be a bit more direct and back it in with a new team. But we can’t hide it anymore.”
Canton worked its way into the attacking third in the 11th minute and a blocked shot fell to senior Jacob Crugnale at the far post but a difficult shot on the bounce was turned aside by OA keeper Sasha Priajinski.
Oliver Ames boys soccer
OA came back down the other way and had a pair of chances just off the mark. First, Milliken set up Linhares on the right side for a bid that was off, and four minutes later, Milliken combined with Neau before taking a shot from distance that went over the bar.
The Bulldogs had their best chance of the opening half came in the 30th minute as senior Erik Valdovinos used his speed to get down the right sideline before getting a cross into the middle where Jake McCabe nodded a header down but Priajinski was well-positioned to make the stop. Canton had another crack at it in the 36th minute of a free kick just outside the box but McCabe’s curling shot was over the bar.
Just before half, Canton utilized its timeout to save time on a dangerous set-piece. McCabe was the first to it at the near post, getting a piece before the rebound fell to junior Carson Eagles, who had his half volley bid go high.
After some early back-and-forth action to start the second half, OA won a corner and cashed in. Milliken played a ball right to the penalty spot where senior Mathias Taylor rose up to meet it, smashing a header into the corner for a 2-0 advantage.
Seven minutes later, OA earned a free kick just over midfield. It was played into the box but Milliken was taken down off the ball to give the Tigers a penalty. Taylor stepped up and used power to get his shot past the keeper for a 3-0 lead in the 60th minute.
“What I really liked, once we got a couple of minutes into the game it felt like we were back, we were comfortable, we were knocking the ball around,” Barata said. “The senior leadership has been great. I know it’s early but Mathias is obviously one of the premier players in the region, Michael Haikal is coming back from an injury, [Collin] Lozano has great senior leadership, Sasha jumping into goal…all the way down, the seniors helped us calm down. And then the underclassman looked comfortable out there too. But this job just got started, there’s a lot of soccer to play but hopefully we keep getting better. They’ve set a high bar for themselves.”
Canton’s best chance of the second half came just a minute later on a free kick from distance but McCabe’s bit on target was parried aside by Priajinski.
“We had to be very conscious about conceding to them in the second half,” Barata said. “At halftime, we talked quickly about how I thought they did well in the first half and I was impressed with the level of intensity but we had to keep it up, I told them we can’t let them in. Canton came out strong in the second but we settled again and once we got the second goal, we felt more comfortable.”
Oliver Ames boys soccer (1-0 Hockomock, 1-0 overall) is on the road again on Friday when they travel to take on Franklin. Canton (1-1-0, 1-1-1) will have its first road league game of the season when it heads to Milford.
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