By Nick Curcuru Sports Editor
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — MANCHESTER— It was exactly the type of start the Manchester Essex boys soccer team could not afford to have against a team of Masconomet’s stature.
Just over a minute into the contest the Hornets were whistled for a handball inside the box. The infraction led to a penalty kick opportunity for Masco’s Charles Sherman and the Chieftains senior captain did not miss on the opportunity putting his team up 1-0.
That turned out to be all Masconomet needed but it put four more goals on the board, the second coming just eight minutes later, en route to a 5-0 win. Masco remains unbeaten on the season at 9-0-2, sitting atop the Cape Ann League Large. Manchester Essex falls to 3-5-3 with the loss, its second straight.
“It’s always easier to play from ahead,” Masco head coach Dave Mitchell said. “We got the pk and we were possessing the ball well early which led to the early lead. We could afford to tighten up on defense after that but we still played well in the middle of the field and in their end.”
The Chieftains struck again in the ninth minute when Dylan Zernich headed in a beautiful cross from Adam Grammer, who raced past the Hornets defense and delivered the cross to the front of the goal from a tough angle.
Just like that it was 2-0 Masconomet. The Chieftains were in complete control and the Hornets were forced to play the rest of the game on their heels.
“We had a similar situation on Friday against Pentucket where we let up a pk in the first couple of minutes, it was a bit of a rough start,” Hornets head coach Rob Bilsbury said. “We came back pretty well after that sustaining some possession but after they scored again we kind of put our heads down a bit. But they’re a really solid team, unbeaten for a reason.”
The Hornets settled down a bit after the second goal as the score remained 2-0 for the majority of the first half until the Chieftains were awarded another penalty kick on a foul inside the box and Michael Ennis delivered making it 3-0 Masco at the break.
From there the Chieftains turned up the defense, holding the Hornets to just one quality scoring opportunity early in the second half when Liam Aldrich rung one off the crossbar after a perfect dead ball feed from Lucas Firme.
The Chieftains controlled the midfield and made the Hornets chase them around the field while creating several scoring opportunities in the process.
“We try to make our ball work do the defensive work for us,” Mitchell said. “We try to make the defense chase the ball around. We pride ourselves in trying to get all 11 guys involved and getting good touches and making them chase really helped us out in the back today.”
Bilsbury was also quick to credit the Chieftains defensive play.
“They have some good size and skill in the defensive third,” Bilsbury said. “Early we possessed in the middle of the field to create chances, but that broke down a bit and we started relying on long balls. (Masco) has some big boys and they play the ball well and were able to slow us down a little bit.”
Masco got a pair of late goals from Alexander Gikas and another from Sherman to finish the contest with a 5-0 win.
Things could have been even worse for the Hornets if it weren’t for the play of senior goalie Chris Xavier. The Hornets captain made several sprawling saves, his best coming on a three-on-none break in the middle of the second half to keep the score at 3-0.
Xavier drew praise from both coaches.
“He came up huge a few times, against a lesser keeper we have a lot more shots going in,” Mitchell said.
“Xavier was absolutely awesome,” Bilsbury said. “We took a lot of chances to try to get numbers up field. It’s easier to play aggressive like that when you’re pressing if you have a goalie like him.”