The list of contenders in Division II boys’ soccer is long. More and more, it’s looking like Toll Gate belongs near the top.
The Titans stretched their unbeaten streak to five and moved within two points of first place on Tuesday afternoon thanks to their biggest win yet. Nathan DaCosta scored both goals as the Titans won 2-0 and handed Lincoln its first loss of the season.
The Lions held onto first place at 7-1-2, but the Titans are just off the pace at 6-1-3.
“This was a big test for us,” said Toll Gate head coach Tim Hayes. “They all look at the standings, and this was a good measuring stick to see where we are. We came out on our home field and got a big win.”
Toll Gate’s surprise 2-1 defeat against Pilgrim on Sept. 19 remains the team’s only loss of the season. On the heels of that, the Titans won two games and tied two games.
“It’s just playing together,” said DaCosta, a senior captain. “Against Pilgrim, we played like complete crap. We’re getting together and playing as a team now.”
With an undefeated team coming to town, the Titans took it to another level. The defense and midfield dominated, especially in the first half, and DaCosta delivered goals late in the first half and early in the second to put the Titans in control.
“Defensively, we were awesome today,” Hayes said. “We were really organized and we did a good job trying to funnel everything they brought into the middle, into the strength of our midfield and not let them expose us on the wings. We got some chances and we took advantage.”
The Lions were coming off a three-game stint in the Gateway City Soccer Classic in St. Louis, Mo., so the Titans know they might get a tougher test in a potential rematch.
But the win was still a big one.
“It might be a little bit different if we played them away, but two good teams,” Hayes said.
The Titans controlled possession in the first half and generated significantly more scoring opportunities. Toll Gate goalie Kyle Brown was barely challenged thanks to strong play in the defensive half by Corey Favino, Kyle McGuire, Andrew Rocchio, Mark Ramsey and Zach Bromage.
“That’s as good defensively as we’ve played all year, and it was against a quality team,” Hayes said.
The Titans’ explosive offense made the big effort count. After standout forwards Josh Sandin and Jose Beltran came up empty on a number of chances, Toll Gate broke the ice on a corner kick in the 32nd minute. Bromage placed the kick into the box, where DaCosta headed it in.
Nine minutes into the second half, DaCosta struck again. Sandin got loose in the right corner and ripped a pass to the near post. DaCosta knocked it in for the 2-0 lead.
“Nate had a big game today,” Hayes said. “He’s been pressing all season, trying to get some goals. He was a little bit frustrated but he kept working and making the right runs. The first one, he got a good head on it. The second one, he saw Josh beat the guy on the corner and made the run to the near post. Sometimes you get the ball, sometimes you don’t, but if you do get the ball, it’s going to be a goal.”
Toll Gate now has 24 goals in 10 games this season, second only to Providence Country Day in Division II.
Sandin nearly made it a 3-0 win late in the game, but he hit the post on a wide open shot in the 39th minute.
Before that, the Titans held tough as the Lions started to find their groove. Brown made two good saves in the second half, and Lincoln sent two big shots high.
“That’s the first time we’ve played 80 minutes of good soccer defensively,” Hayes said. “Our goalie didn’t get many tests, but when he did, he answered them.”
The Titans celebrated the victory, but they’ll quickly turn their attention to some tough games on the horizon. The team’s final five games include match-ups with third-place Coventry and fourth-place East Greenwich.
“We’ve got some good teams coming up here – East Greenwich, Middletown, Coventry,” Hayes said. “It was good to get this one in the win column because it’s not getting any easier.”
With one big test already passed, though, the Titans aren’t short on confidence.
“We really like the way we looked today,” Hayes said. “If we play defensively like that every game, we’re going to be tough to score on. And with the guys we have up front, we’re going to get some goals. It’s exciting what we can do.”
Toll Gate visits Middletown tonight at 6 p.m.