The Toll Gate boys’ soccer team is short on depth and has inexperienced players at a few key spots, but with three games in the books, the Titans have shown that they can hang with anybody.
They’re just waiting for a win.
After losing to Westerly and tying Providence Country Day, the Titans hosted two-time defending Division II champion Smithfield at the Bend Street Soccer Complex on Thursday and fell just shy of their first victory. The Sentinels scored 30 minutes into the game and then made that lead stand up against a charge by the Titans on their way to a 1-0 victory.
“We were in the game the whole way,” said Toll Gate head coach Tim Hayes. “We had about an even amount of chances. They got a goal, and we were just a little bit off.”
The Sentinels beat Toll Gate in a wild playoff semifinal last year. Though 10 players graduated from that team, the Sentinels still pack a punch, and they controlled much of the first half action on Thursday.
Toll Gate’s defensive unit of Justin Allen, Nick Lodge, Andrew Rocchio and James Sullivan managed to limit quality scoring chances, and goalie Steve Mathews was there when balls got through.
Unfortunately for the Titans, Smithfield eventually pushed one in. In the 30th minute, Jackson Acciaioli dribbled in from the left corner and sent a hard shot to the near post. It spun right between Mathews and the post to give Smithfield the 1-0 lead.
The Titans, who lost 3-1 to Westerly and tied PCD 2-2, knew they could hang around. It was about finding a way to score.
“We told them at halftime, that if we keep fighting and we keep staying organized, the ball will bounce to our feet and we’ll get one through,” Hayes said. “We got a couple through, but we just weren’t able to finish on the other end.”
Playing without standout midfielder Nathan DaCosta, who broke his ankle in the PCD game, the Titans didn’t control the ball as much as they would like but still managed to create some chances.
Five minutes into the second half, Josh Sandin slipped a pass to Jose Beltran from the top of the box but Beltran couldn’t get a clear shot off. On the ensuing corner kick, Smithfield goalie Chase Richard made a leaping grab just in front of a jumping Beltran.
Toll Gate got consistent pressure from there and had their best chance in the 56th minute. Corey Favino blocked a clearing pass from Smithfield, got a step on the defender and carried the ball all the way to the net. But Richard was there for the save, keeping it a 1-0 game.
Sandin and Beltran combined to create a few more looks, but most of the time, they couldn’t quite connect. And when they could, Richard was there.
“With Josh and Jose, we’re always dangerous on a counter,” Hayes said. “Unfortunately, right now, we have to play a really defensive formation. Sometimes it’s frustrating for those guys because they’re not getting as many chances. We just have to stay organized, keep the score low, and when we get chances, treat them as really valuable. A couple of times, we had the ball where we wanted it but the last pass just gave the goalie a little bit too good of a look at it.”
And that sealed Toll Gate’s fate. Despite the loss, though, Hayes was pleased with the effort.
“With what we had, we fought really well,” Hayes said. “We’re a bit undersized. They’re very good and they’re very fast. We stayed organized for 80 minutes. We just didn’t put one in.”
It was another close one, and though the Titans haven’t picked up a win yet, their first three games have shown that they have the right formula to contend.
“If we can play teams like Westerly and Smithfield and be competitive, then I think we can be competitive all year,” Hayes said. “It’s going to be an exciting season. With this new Division II, you get to play everybody so you don’t really know what to expect.”
The Titans are scheduled to return to action today with a 3:45 game at Narragansett. On Thursday, they’ll host Pilgrim at Warwick City Park at 3:30 p.m.