After surrendering an uncharacteristic nine goals through the first three games, Hornets’ head coach Steve Sheridan elected to put junior Evan Eames into a sweeper role and senior captain Colin Caridi in front of him as a stopper.
Flanked by Cam Eddu on the left side, and juniors Ethan Scholes and Stephen Saba alternating at right back, and all-league goalie Anthony Salisbury behind them, the duo anchored Mansfield to their first shutout in a 1-0 win over visiting Sharon.
“The biggest difference for me was the defense,” Sheridan said. “We’ve been having trouble with that and we tried a different group today. I took Colin out of the middle and put him in the back. And Evan has played everywhere for me this year and I just haven’t found a spot but I think we did today.”
After losing junior Michael Jeans to an injury in the season opener, Sheridan has shuffled pieces in the back before going with the duo of Eames and Caridi in the heart of the defense. That duo helped limit Sharon to a handful of quality chances.
The lone goal of the contest came just before the midway point of the season second. With a long throw in the attacking third, the Hornets loaded the box with attacking players. Eddy launched a long throw from the right sideline. Senior Peter Oldow got just enough of a touch to redirect the ball onto goal, where it hit off the post and just crossed the goal line to make it 1-0.
The teams took turns controlling the game, with the hosts dictating the pace early on. Mansfield sophomore Dylan Buchanan saw his shot from a tough angle go wide at the near post in the 8th minute, and two minutes later, he flashed a header just wide off service from Tommy Lanzillo.
The Hornets’ best chance of the opening half came off the foot of Caridi. With some space just over midfield, Caridi ripped a shot from distance that hit the crossbar and bounced out.
Sharon took control over the final 10 minutes of the first half and nearly took the lead. With seniors Brian Higgins, Isaiah Stessman, and Michael Baur combining in the midfield, the Eagles were able to move the ball and generate its best offense.
In the 37th minute, Baur connected with Stessman, who held used strong hold up play to allow the Eagles to get upfield. Higgins latched onto a loose ball forcing Salisbury into a save on the bounce.
And just before halftime, Stessman connected with Viktor Schneider, who set up Higgins for a blast on the volley but his shot whistled wide and the refs whistled for halftime.
The Eagles started the second half strong as well, as Schneider ripped a shot just wide a minute in, and Stessman and Higgins combined to force Salisbury into a diving save.
“Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t finish,” said Sharon coach Bryan Kelly. “We got caught up playing kick and run soccer. We dominated the end of the first half by keeping the ball on the ground and we lost that in the second half. We have a couple of guys that are hurt, and on a field like this, when you try to run as fast as you possibly can constantly, it’s tough. We slowed it down in the first half and that’s why we had the advantage.
“In all honesty, their only game is kick and run, long throws, and corners. That’s the only thing that team has to it. You don’t see any build-up play in the middle, you don’t see guys making effective runs in.”
Sharon freshman goalie Matthew Baur made a stop on a Mansfield corner kick in the 48th minute, smothering a redirection. But the Hornets cashed in with a long throw in the 56th minute.
“We draw up the plays, we go over them one day and they have to know them,” Sheridan said of the long throws. “We very rarely work on them in terms of practice. We will go over sometimes at the end of practice to make sure they know them. We have a couple of guys that can throw it long this year so we can move Dylan into the box and have a dangerous striker there.”
Both teams had chances over the final 20 minutes. In the 64th minute, Lanzillo hit a free kick from 20 yards out that looked destined for the top corner but Baur made a leaping one-handed stop to keep the deficit at one.
And in the 75th minute, Sharon nearly found the equalizer. Higgins played a free kick quick to Michael Baur, who took a touch and uncorked a bullet but the shot from distance went just over the crossbar.
Mansfield boys soccer (1-2 Hockomock, 1-3 overall) is back in action on Monday when they visit Franklin. Sharon (0-3-0, 0-3-1) will look to break into the win column with a trip to North Attleboro on Tuesday.