WORCESTER, Mass. – Every time that Milford went forward, it looked capable of scoring a goal, but every time that Winchester lined up an attacking set piece on the other end of the field it looked just as likely to find the back of the net.
It made for a thrilling, end-to-end Div. 2 state championship game at Worcester State’s Coughlin Field. In the end, it also meant heartbreak for the Hawks.
Winchester got a free kick on the left side of the Milford box seven minutes into the first overtime period. The first ball in was half-cleared but Aras Kaya reacted quickest and was able to knock in the game-winner, handing the Sachems a 5-4 victory and the state title. It was the fourth goal that Winchester had scored from a set piece and denied Milford its first ever state championship in its first appearance in the final in 21 years.
“Winchester played really good today,” said Milford coach Brian Edwards. “They were very proficient, they were very effective in what they did and we were not. We were uncharacteristically sloppy with set piece defense.”
He added, “I’m really proud of how hard my guys played this season, but we didn’t deserve to win this game given how we played.”
Milford grabbed control of the ball right from the opening whistle and had the game’s first good looks at goal. Joao Pedro Da Silva hit a long, angled ball behind the Winchester left back to free Pedro Araujo, but the senior forward was unable to hit the target under pressure from the last defender. Just a minute later Lucas Da Silva went close with a shot to the near post.
Although it was the Hawks with the early chances, it was Winchester that grabbed the first lead. William Hofheinz hit a long free kick that went all the way through the box to Diego Diaz at the back post. Diaz had time to bring it down, look up, and slide a shot to the far corner.
The Sachems held onto the one-goal lead for 20 minutes, nearly doubling it when Kevin Gomes was forced into a diving save on a 25-yard shot by Ben Von Halle.
In the 34th minute, Milford sprung into life. Araujo got free on the right side and hit a cross into Leo Coelho that was cleared by the last defender. A minute later, Araujo again went to his right and skipped past his marker. This time he loped into the box and got all the way inside the six before chipping a shot over the keeper and into the corner.
Just about a minute later, the Hawks jumped in front for the first time. Joao Pedro Da Silva raced down the left side, leaving his defender in his wake, and then hit a deft toe poke that left the keeper stranded and snuck in off the far post to make it 2-1.
Jordan Borges had a chance down the right side to add to the lead just before halftime, but the Hawks went into the break with the lead.
“In the first half, I thought we were very disorganized,” Edwards explained. “We fought back, we fought back, scored those two goals at the end of the first half to make it a game but I don’t think we started playing well until we got to the end of the second half.”
That lead only lasted three minutes into the second half. Hofheinz curled a 30-yard free kick to this near post and the ball snuck in after the keeper lost track of his positioning in the goal and, thinking the shot was going wide, allowed it to bounce past him.
Milford came right back just five minutes later and regained the advantage. This time it was Lucas Da Silva on the left and he got all the way to the end line and was brought down as he tried to cut a pass back into the middle. The ref pointed to the spot and Araujo stepped up to score his second of the game and put the Hawks up 3-2.
In the 53rd minute, the Hawks were again guilty of not clearing a set piece and allowed Winchester to equalize. This time the bouncing ball went in off a Milford player at the back post.
Four minutes later, the Sachems were in front. Von Halle created the chance when he jumped on a poor clearance and he sent a ball in from the right side that Diaz was able to bring down at the far post. The forward roofed his shot, giving backup keeper Leo Oliveira no chance.
Injuries cropped up for the Hawks throughout the game, as Coelho, the league MVP, was forced to the bench and senior right back Nuno Mestre also missed a bulk of the second half. Eduardo Castro and freshman Arthur Tome played well off the bench, but those were key pieces that Milford was without down the stretch.
The Hawks went into desperation mode in the closing minutes and played some of their best attacking soccer of the game. It took until the 74th minute, but the pressure paid off. A long throw from Dan Santos bounced in the box and was met by Carlos Terrinha, who was able to turn it in first-time from close range.
Edwards said, “These guys have a lot of guts, otherwise they wouldn’t be here today. They’re here for a reason. This has been the best team I’ve ever coached and not just for their playing ability but for their character and their tenacity and their grit.”
With the joy of an equalizer and a raucous fan section at that end of the field, Milford found a second gear for the final few minutes. A Chris Tocci long throw to Araujo almost turned into a winner, only for the Sachems to crowd out the chance. Joao Pedro Da Silva had a great look off a corner, but his goal-bound shot was blocked at the last second.
“The last 10 minutes were how we should’ve been playing the whole game,” Edwards admitted, “and it wasn’t enough because when you play a good team like that you can’t wait 70 minutes to start playing good soccer.”
Borges forced a save from the Winchester keeper five minutes into the OT period and Milford looked the more likely to score at that stage, until the Sachems earned a free kick. After defending set pieces well all tournament long, the Hawks couldn’t find a way to stop one last chance and fell just short of winning an elusive first title.
“Any set piece near the area, a team that is big and strong they’re going to have chances and unfortunately we didn’t do a good enough job denying the chances and we didn’t do a good enough job defending them. We didn’t execute,” said Edwards.
Milford finished the season at 18-1-2, outscoring teams 71-22 along the way. Edwards, a former soccer player at Milford, called it a historic season despite the loss in the final.
“It’s nice to give the town something to talk about,” he said. “We take the name on the front of the jersey very seriously. We take a lot of pride in how we represent ourselves, how we represent the town, and how we represent our school.”
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