WEST GREENWICH — It went down to the wire as the Exeter-West Greenwich boys soccer team hosted Prout last Friday.
The Knights gave the Crusaders fits all afternoon and it took nearly every single one of the game’s 90 minutes to decide the outcome, but ultimately Prout came away with the 2-1 win.
“We didn’t have our best outing,” said Prout coach Tim Ryan. “I don’t know what it was, the last couple of weeks when we play on Friday we just come out a little flat. …The same thing happened last week. We came out flat, we gave up early goals and we had to battle back. Same thing happened today.”
“…Everything was just a little off. Every touch was a little heavy. Every pass was to [Exeter-West Greenwich] or to space. We were a little flat and not assertive or aggressive. …It took us a few minutes to get involved in the game.”
The Crusaders lack of spark was apparent from the start as the Scarlet Knights took possession off the opening kick and played keep away from their guests for the opening 20 minutes. They put the game’s first goal away in the 19th minute when Austin Coker collected a throw-in and fired one on net. Prout goalkeeper Bryan McCormack sprawled to make the initial save, but the rebound deflected right to a patiently waiting Tyler Lynch who buried it in the open net for a 1-0 EWG lead.
The early deficit seemed to shake the Crusaders awake, however, and the Knights lead was short lived as Jake Covell got things back to even in the 23rd minute playing a long ball from the top of the 18 high far side for the equalizer.
Back to even the Crusaders settled in once again and the Knights reassumed their control from earlier for the remainder of the half. McCormack made the saves to keep his team in the game and sent the contest to the half tied 1-1.
“Go to the ball and not give them room to operate,” said Knights coach Matt Savoie of his squad’s game plan. “You have to close on [Prout’s] space. They have a lot skill, they score a lot of goals, the only thing you can do is close down passing lanes and keep the ball in front of you. [We] did that as well as [we] can do.”
As the teams returned from the half, the script was flipped from the end of the first half as it was Prout dominating possession and EWG goalkeeper Austin Larson coming up with save after save to keep his team in the contest.
“We made a couple changes tactically,” Ryan said. “The message was ‘wake up and get comfortable on the ball.’ That’s when we’re a good team and when we’re aggressive. We’re not the type of team that likes to just kick and run or rely on one person. We’re good when we play as a group and we get comfortable on the ball and link up play and move the ball around.”
For as dominant as Prout was around the ball, the Knights defense continued to be equally so as they stymied the opposing offense, yielding few quality scoring chances to the Crusaders as the minutes ticked off the clock and the score remained tied.
“I think we got frustrated,” Ryan said, “and we were trying to play behind them or over the top and we were relying on a through ball. We were relying on one guy making that unmarked run or that one ball that’s just going to sneak through and someone’s wide open. That pass was either too heavy and it went to the goalie or it was to space and they marked back. That’s not what we’re good at.”
Though frustrated, the Crusaders persisted, pressing for the go ahead goal throughout the closing minutes. Just when it looked as though their efforts would be too little, too late as the Knights defense continued to stand tall to what entered the contest as the top offense in Division III, Prout drew a free kick with less than 15 seconds on the clock. Midfielder Andrew Mace lined up for the kick and riffled it over a leaping Larson, putting it just under the crossbar for the game-winner.
“Drew Mace worked hard to kind of create something at the end,” Ryan said. “It was a dead ball, you don’t want to rely on a set piece, but he’s a good player and he struck that thing pretty true. We’ll take it.”
Mace’s strike sealed the win for the Crusaders, helping them keep pace with West Warwick for the regular season title with just two weeks to play before the postseason. For the Knights, it was a hard-fought loss for a young, developing team.
“They played great,” said Savoie. “I’d like to have a little more ball control, but they knew they were in against a really good team and they raised their game up a lot. I’m really proud of what they did, we just lost on a great shot at the end.”
Following a weekend off, the Crusaders returned to action on Tuesday afternoon with a road contest against Johnston (results unavailable at press time). They will be back home on Friday afternoon to close out the second to last week of their regular season, taking on North Providence in a 3:30 p.m. contest.