By Kristian Lundberg
For the entire 80-minute game Thursday, boys’ soccer, 4-3-4, stifled Braintree and dominated the run of play.
The collapse came in the 82nd minute.
Down 1-0 deep into stoppage time, Braintree scraped across an improbable equalizer to salvage a point from a game it had no chance of winning. A desperate throw-in from 30 yards out floated into the box, and somehow, Braintree managed to get a head on it in the middle of a rugby-style scrum. The header beat senior keeper Nick Knaian to the right, shocking the sizable crowd at Dickinson Stadium, and the Wamps tied the game up for good at 1-1.
The result frustrated the Tigers, who were the better team over the course of the game, as it seemed for a moment that the squad had found a breakthrough with five minutes left. However, the Tigers’ inability to close out the match haunted a team looking to secure a spot in the State Tournament.
“I think we lost track of where we were in the game,” coach Roy Dow said.
“We lost focus at the end, and we didn’t play with the same intensity.”
The last-second goal spoiled a brilliant play by senior Tim Stanton, a captain with senior Luke Westman, that got the Tigers on the scoreboard. With the game dwindling down to what appeared to be a scoreless draw, Stanton made a bold run up the right wing, despite playing as a defender. Sophomore Wes Turner lofted a beautiful left-footed cross into the box, catching the Braintree defense out of position.
Stanton beat the defense to the ball, moved it to his right foot and blasted the ball into the roof of the net, leaving the Wamps’ keeper motionless. With only 5:50 left, the Tigers appeared to have found a breakthrough that would earn the team its third straight win.
But the Wamps’ dormant offense woke up, and the Tigers’ airtight defense sprung a leak.
The Wamps pressed after the goal, and the Tigers were unable to slow down the pace of the game. With three minutes left, Braintree drew a questionable foul in the box, setting up the Wamps with a penalty kick to tie the game. However, the Wamps choked under pressure, hammering the spot-kick over the crossbar to preserve the Tigers’ lead.
Still, the late throw-in allowed the Wamps to escape with a point, and, being last in the Carey Division of the Bay State Conference, Braintree needed all of the points it could get.
“We had a bunch of chances in the game, but we didn’t convert,” Dow said.
“Braintree has a lot of tall players, and they have a kid who can make long throw-ins, so they were able to capitalize. They were most dangerous on set-pieces.”
For the Tigers, juniors Matt Callahan and Mike Kaye had strong games on offense, but, like the rest of the team, they were unable to find the back of the net. Goal-scoring problems plague the team this season, as their defense has, for the most part, held opposing offenses in check.
This season, the Tigers are 4-0 in games where they have scored two or more goals. When shut out or held to only one goal, the team is winless at 0-3-4.
“Braintree had nine or 10 guys behind the ball most of the game. It’s hard to create chances and score goals when they have so many guys on defense,” Dow said.
“We need to work on finishing out games better. It was tough to tie.”