SOMERSET, Mass. – North Attleboro allowed only 13 goals in 18 games during the regular season and that disciplined, organized defense was on full display again on Monday afternoon at Somerset-Berkley in the first round of the playoffs.
The Rocketeers held the hosts to only two shots on goal, as North keeper Kyle Briere was largely untroubled in earning his ninth clean sheet of the season (and third in a row). With the defense in control, Matt Mordini’s first half strike turned out to be all North needed to beat the Raiders 1-0 and set up a quarterfinal against Hock rival Oliver Ames.
“I thought we played our brand of soccer and we had to possess a little more than we normally do and I thought we did a really nice job,” said North coach Geoff Burgess. “We’re still missing the timing of our runs forward to get in behind, but that’s always been a work in progress. We defended well. I think they had one legitimate chance where they go in behind us.”
The hosts started the game well, moving the ball around and keeping possession, but failed to generate any chances, whether it was a shot or just putting the ball into the penalty area. The North back line of Jeremy Folan, Donovan Carter, Justin Silva, and James Bush kept everything in front of them and bottled up the Somerset-Berkley forwards.
Defending began in the midfield, where the Rocketeers kept up the pressure and consistently stymied attacks high up the pitch.
Burgess explained, “That has come from our preparations for Milford. We know how good their midfield is so we worked really hard on our midfield defending. If we can hang with that midfield, there isn’t a midfield that is going to outrun us or outperform us.”
North’s offense was relying on quick transitions to get the ball to Mordini up top. It proved to be effective, as the Rocketeers had several chances to grab the lead in the opening 20 minutes.
Joey Coscarella played a ball into Andrew Tolfa in the center of the field and his pass to Matt Conley on the right wing caused confusion between the defender and goalie. Conley nearly pounced on the loose ball but the keeper was able to dive on it and cover. Two minutes later Mordini was played in behind the left back by an Alex Pfeffer flick, but his shot was sliced well wide.
In the 31st minute, North had a deserved lead. It came from a quick break out to Conley on the righthand side. He cut inside of the fullback and teed up Mordini on the edge of the box. The striker took a touch before finding the bottom corner.
“Mordini is a work in progress,” Burgess said. “He was playing outside left early on and we moved him to that striker position and kind of moved some pieces around. I think he’s a budding striker. He has good instincts and he’s got a pretty good shot.”
Somerset-Berkley closed the half with a flurry, registering its only two shots on goal. Briere had to be out quick to block a chance for the forward in the right channel and then was able to make a diving stop on a powerful header off a corner. The ball pinballed around in the box for a minute and the Raiders started to celebrate a goal only to have it wiped away for a foul.
North could have been excused for trying to lock things down in the second half and just hold onto its one-goal lead, but instead the Rocketeers dominated the ball and had numerous opportunities to double the advantage. Burgess admitted that it was nerve-wracking watching chance after chance go by without a second goal.
“You know how that goes, a missed opportunity down here turns into a set piece or something down there and what happens, you give up that lead you’ve had all game long,” Burgess joked. “I was proud of the boys.”
The first chance fell to Mordini, who rose highest to meet a Tolfa free kick, but his header flashed wide of the post. Three minutes later James Sales played a give-and-go with Coscarella on the edge of the box to create shooting space, but he dragged his shot inches wide. The duo combined again just minutes later with Sales forcing a save from the keeper.
Mordini ended up with North’s best chance of the second half when the Raiders defender and keeper allowed a ball to bounce between them. He nicked the ball away and had a wide open goal to aim for, but only found the side netting.
Coscarella took advantage of a poor goal kick to have a left-footed shot that was saved, Tolfa tried his luck from 30 yards and his dipping shot flew narrowly over the bar, and Conley got in behind the left back only to have two players run offsides as he tried to pass it across the goal.
It turned out the one goal was enough and North Attleboro (9-6-4) celebrated a playoff victory and the chance to take on the Kelley-Rex division champion Oliver Ames on Thursday night.
Burgess said, “I’m excited about Thursday because we play them tough and these guys are motivated.”