EAST PROVIDENCE — At the start of the week, the players and coaches for the East Providence High School boys’ soccer team knew they had three games, 240 minutes to salvage their season.
By week’s end, the Townies had done just that.
Following victories over Cumberland and East Greenwich, E.P. played fifth-place Portsmouth to a 1-1 draw Friday, Oct. 27, in city on Senior Night for the Townies.
Of most significance, the one point earned by E.P. was enough for the Townies to reach the minimum qualifying number necessary to gain entry into the Division I state championship tournament.
“The effort was good. Defensively, we battled hard. I think they deserved the result they got,” said EPHS head coach Tony Vieira, whose Townies needed seven points, at least two wins and a tie, in their last three games of the regular season to earn a playoff berth.
“Nothing like shaving some years off my life,” Vieira added with a smile. “I think this was the third year in a row we were fighting to the end to get into the playoffs.”
Evan Goncalves scored the equalizing goal, his first of the season, for East Providence. The Townies finished their 2017 regular season with a 4-9-1 record and more importantly 13 total points.
“To be honest, I didn’t even think it went in. And when it went in, I was like, hey, I’ll take it. Anything to get my team into the playoffs,” Goncalves, a senior, said of his clutch goal two minutes into the second half.
Cade McHugh had given the Patriots a 1-nil lead with his tally midway through the first half. Portsmouth finished its regular season with a 6-2-6 mark and 24 points.
Both teams awaited the results from games played Friday and Saturday to determine where they’ll wind up in the final league standings and to learn their seedings in the state tourney bracket.
The sides played relatively even through the first 10 minutes Friday. The Townies began to exert themselves next, but it was Portsmouth, on the counter, that had the initial best chance of the night. Liam Callahan ripped a shot from the top of the 18-yard box, which E.P. keeper Mateo Andrade (10 saves) smothered just off his line.
The Patriots remained on the front foot, keeping possession in the Townies’ half for the better part of the remainder of the opening 40 minutes. In eventually setting up the first goal, Callahan drew a handful of East Providence defenders to him, then slipped a pass to McHugh alone on the right wing. McHugh calmly toed a shot over an encroaching Andrade to put the Pats in front. The Townies’ claimed McHugh was offsides went unreturned by the referee,
The duo of Callahan and McHugh continued to pester the East Providence back four the rest of the period, but none of their effort led to a second goal. Another Pat, Michael Tavares, also made some hay. He drew a yellow card on E.P. central defender John Caleb Kauffman, but the ensuing free kick was easily taken by Andrade. Tavares later had what proved to be one of Portsmouth’s best last chances of the night in the final minute of the opening period, but his first shot from the left flank was stopped by the Townies’ keeper and his second, on the rebound, sailed over the crossbar.
A bit fortunate to be only a goal behind to start the final 40 minutes, the Townies wasted little time in tying the score. Portsmouth keeper William Swart (6 saves) couldn’t collect a floater sent from the right side with a host of bodies in front on him. One of those in the scrum, Goncalves, made the Patriots pay as he pooched in the loose ball to level the contest in the 42nd minute.
“The first goal, I don’t know if it was onside or not. It looked a little close. It was tight,” said Vieira. “Our goal, it was a little opportunistic. It dropped. Their keeper couldn’t control it. Then there was a collision. And (Evan) was just able to put it away. Ironically, he had a chance like that against Shea (in a 3-2 E.P. loss) to tie the game and he put it over the bar. So it was kind of a little redemption for him.”
Down the stretch, both teams created chances. Andrade made a slide tackle just outside his six-yard box to prevent a Pats’ opportunity. Swart, likewise, made a fine stop, punching away a shot off a corner headed towards the upper corner of the Portsmouth net.
Later on, E.P.’s Dan Forsythe came close twice, his first shot from the right side just missing the top far corner, his second from the left side went wide of the post. Leonel Frias, as well, had a look from the right side, but his chip hit the outside of the net.
And though both chased another goal, neither team was able to muster much in the last 10 minutes. East Providence did a good job of killing the clock near the end of time, burly senior forward Tyler Coelho being especially effective using his wide frame to keep the ball pinned deep in the Portsmouth corner in the waning moments before the final whistle.
“We really didn’t play well all season. Coach really helped us out, but we didn’t do anything. And then we finally came together at the end,” Goncalves said of the Townies’ fall in total and final week of the regular season. “There was a lot of pressure. We just stuck to it. We had to get results, and we did.”
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