CANTON, Mass. – The field seemed to be tilted towards the far end zone all night. In the first half of Thursday night’s game at WWII Veterans Memorial Field, King Philip threatened with every attack, creating a number of chances, and putting Canton on the back foot. After the break, the hosts turned the game around and suddenly had the Warriors on their heels.
When you’re on top in the game, you have to find the back of the net. KP managed it once, junior Tadhg Keller tapping in a rebound in the 14th minute, and that turned out to be just about enough, as the back line held up against the Canton pressure and held on for a 1-0 win.
“They had a lot of momentum,” said KP coach Mike O’Neill about the pressure his team faced to preserve the lead in the second half. “I’m really happy. It’s a character win, these guys really grinded it out. It was close, it was touch-and-go for a while, but I’m proud of how my boys stuck to it.”
Canton had the game’s first shot on target, but it would end up being the only save that KP starting keeper Aidan Lindmark had to make in the first half, as the Bulldogs struggled to manufacture consistent offense in the opening 40 minutes.
KP grabbed control by exploiting the edges of the Canton defense. Junior Alex Leon had a bright start down the left and he slipped a pass into the channel for Andrew Robinson to have a shot just six minutes into the game. Five minutes later, Leon quickly turned on his defender and had a go from inside the box but hit the side netting.
In the 14th minute, KP got a free kick opportunity from about 25 yards out. Sophomore Caleb Casseta-Waxman curled a shot that seemed destined for the back of the net only for Canton keeper Alejandro Correal to fly across and get a fingertip to it and put it off the bar. The rebound fell to Keller, who took a touch to settle it before slamming the ball into the goal.
“I thought we played a relatively complete game today,” said Canton coach Danny Erickson, “but soccer comes down to moments and we fell asleep admiring our goalkeeper’s save. They didn’t fall asleep and they buried a rebound and that’s what happens.”
Just a minute later, the lead was very nearly doubled. This time KP attacked down the right. Wesley Orzell and Owen Teixeira played a one-two to get Orzell into space and he burst past the defender on the end line. The senior looked up and slid a pass to Casseta-Waxman, who was unmarked in the six-yard-box. Only a heroic intervention by freshman Carson Eagles kept the goalbound shot from hitting the back of the net.
The chances kept coming for the visitors. Evan McEvoy teed up Teixeira in the right channel and his shot flashed into the side netting, confusing some in the crowd, on the KP bench, and the scorekeeper who all thought it had gone into the top corner.
Stephen Griffin managed to hold possession against several Canton defenders and he set up McEvoy for a 20-yard strike that Correal held for one of his five first-half saves. A long cross from right back Matthew Clarke picked out Keller for a free header with just minutes to go before halftime, but the shot was easily grabbed by Correal.
Whatever was said at halftime seemed to work for the Bulldogs. Canton came out of the break inspired and instantly started to put pressure on the KP defense.
“I’d love to take massive credit for an inspirational halftime speech,” Erickson joked, “but I thought we were showing signs of really good stuff in the first half and we focused on those things. Honestly, they started winning some battles and feeling good about themselves and that results in good things.”
Just three minutes into the second half, Dylan Baird had a shot from a long way out that new KP keeper Grant Orzell had to collect at the second attempt, just in front of Jacob Crugnale. Five minutes later, Crugnale had a go from distance that took a touch off a KP boot before going over the bar. From the resulting corner, Colby Cifolillo rose highest but his goal-bound header was deflected wide of the post.
“We’re still a team that’s struggling to create chances and finish and that’s something that we’re going back to the drawing board to keep working on,” Erickson said.
Midway through the second half, freshman Jorge Sanchez set up Crugnale for a one-time hit but Orzell was able to get behind it. TJ McCabe had several shots from the edge of the box that the defense had to charge down. Despite the chances they were able to create, the Bulldogs just couldn’t find a way through and the KP back three of Clarke, Jordan Hoyle, and Jeremy White held firm.
“They are the core of this team and they are the rock, the wall we build, and we really rely on them,” said O’Neil of his defense. “In addition to be excellent defenders, they’re really skilled, composed, and they know what they’re doing.”
KP had a couple of chances on the break to try and put the game away. The best chance came for Anthony Zappala, but his curling effort from distance was collected by Canton back-up goalie Giovanni Ruggeri.
King Philip (3-1-2, 2-1-2) will get nearly a week off before traveling to division rival Attleboro on Wednesday. Canton (1-3-2, 1-3-1) will try to end its three-game losing streak when it hosts Sharon on Monday.