(written, shot and edited for Somerville Patch)
In a game that could very well be repeated when the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association state soccer tournament begins on Nov. 5, the Somerville Highlanders and Madison Park (Roxbury) Cardinals played to a 3-3 draw Friday afternoon at Dilboy Stadium.
The Cardinals played with the same aggression, precision and speed the Highlanders have played with all season, and in the opening minutes they surprised the Highlander defense, forcing a turnover right outside the goal.
Madison Park sophomore Jairo Ortiz grabbed it, slipped behind the Somerville defense and fired a shot past goalie Richard Rodrigues for a 1-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.
Somerville striker Charlemers “Junior” Pierre-Louis had clanged an open shot off the Cardinal goalpost earlier in the game, so he was itching for another chance. That chance came three minutes after Ortiz’s goal, when strong Highlander offensive pressure earned them a corner kick.
Sophomore Franscisco Fernandes Neto kicked the ball towards the center of the field, and Madison Park goalie Joao Rosa came out to play it. Rosa could only deflect the ball, however, and the ball rolled out to Matheus Augusto Reis. Reis played the ball up to Pierre-Louis, who quickly turned and fired past Rosa to tie the game at 7:09.
The sequence highlighted the one-on-one battle Pierre-Louis waged all afternoon with Cardinal center-back Emike Pires, the emotional sophomore who constantly and emphatically directed his defense.
“Junior’s going to man up against anybody, he’s such a strong presence out there,” said Somerville coach George Scarpelli. “Their No. 6 [Pires] is obviously the best player, and Junior played today as our best player.”
Following the goal, Somerville could do little more than play defense for the next 14 minutes. Madison Park’s precision passing and aggressive pursuit of the ball kept play on Somerville’s side of the field.
“It’s just like with the dog and the rabbit,” Madison Park coach Joao Gomes said. “When you see the ball, you have to attack the ball. You can’t give them any space.”
Without speedy Highlander center-back Andre Filipe Rolim, the Cardinals might have put several more in the goal.
Still, Madison Park scored next, when senior Leonel Pontes placed a direct kick from about 50 yards away directly at the feet of fellow senior Kevin Teixeira, standing amidst the pack of Highlanders and Cardinals just outside the Somerville goal. Almost instantly Teixeira put the ball in the net for a 2-1 lead.
The Highlanders had a few opportunities to tie the game before the end of the half, but Rosa dove to stop a shot from Pierre-Louis and sophomore Elliot Rippe pulled his 25-yarder just wide. Rippe made up for it on the other end, however, blocking two point-blank shots to keep it a one-goal game.
The Highlanders passed too passively in the first half, letting balls come to them instead of running towards them as the Cardinals did.
“Every ball that was in the air, they let that ball bounce in front and it killed us,” Scarpelli said.
The free kick became the Highlanders’ friend in the second half, with Reis lofted a kick from 33 yards away to just in front of the goal. Senior Fredwilson Nivado Andrade went up for it and headed the ball past the diving Rosa to tie the game 2-2 midway through the second half.
But once again the Cardinals reasserted their offensive control, with junior Edmilson Barros heading one in from 10 yards out to retake the lead. And as Somerville’s subsequent near-misses mounted – a shot by Pierre-Louis pulled wide, a shot from Edgardo Perez Vasquez clipping the crossbar – it looked as if the Highlanders would come up just short.
That changed in the final minutes of the game, when sophomore Thayrone Miranda used his tremendous speed to penetrate the Cardinal defense, pulling off several defenders. That freed up Pierre-Louis in the middle of the field, and a quick touch from Miranda was all it took for Pierre-Louis to get a clean shot at the goal. He didn’t miss, and the Highlanders pulled out the draw.
“When you play this type of soccer, and it’s back and forth like this, it shows you that your team is resilient,” Scarpelli said.
Both teams remain with just one loss. Somerville’s record is 9-1-3.