PLAINVILLE - The winning streak is up to six games for Bristol Central boys soccer.
A late goal from senior captain Mark Palma put the Rams in front of Plainville 2-1 with five minutes left in the second half, giving his team its second win over the Blue Devils this season. Central bested Plainville 5-1 on Sept. 13 in the second game of the season and this game played out much differently. The Blue Devils' battle for possession was more competitive and they found an equalizing goal late when senior Gavid Bravado made the score 1-1 in the final 15 minutes of the game.
The win improves Central’s record to 7-1-2 and keeps the team within striking distance of Middletown, the only team to beat the Rams this season, for first place in the CCC South.
“ We didn’t finish our opportunities,” Central head coach Nate Jandreau said. “I told them if we don’t finish in the first half, or finish anywhere, [Plainville is] going to get life and they’re going to feel like they have a chance and they did. They caught us sleeping in the midfield a little bit.”
Plainville falls to 5-5 with six games left in its regular season. Two more wins secure a spot in the Class M state tournament.
“ I think we were way more prepared [this time],” Blue Devils head coach Devin Pugliese said. “We’re a way different side than we were in the beginning of the season against these guys. We fixed some things, some guys have stepped up and I think we had a better idea of what we needed to do to stop them and we, for the most part, executed those things.”
Central played more cohesively in the first half and almost entered halftime with nothing to show for it. The Rams failed to convert quality scoring chances for most of the opening 40 minutes, until a throw-in found senior captain Carson Rivoira on the end line. Rivoira quickly turned around and found freshman Rafael Antonio right in front of the target and he netted his first career goal with five minutes until halftime.
“ I think we did really well in the first half and we just did not finish,” Jandreau said. “I think we tried to play a little hero ball and guys took shots when they could’ve made an extra pass. Ultimately, the first goal was an extra pass. It was Carson taking it all the way down to the end line, pulling the defense down with him, and then cutting it back to the six and we got a tap in.”
Rivoira nearly earned another assist before the midway break, but the shot sailed high above the goal and Central led 1-0 at halftime.
Plainville made effective adjustments for the second half and took control of the midfield with physicality and some different tactics. Having the experience of already playing this team, the Blue Devils showed a better understanding of where their advantages were against the Rams.
“ What we did well today was fixing problems coming out of the half,” Pugliese said. “We had a game plan that we didn’t really stick to early. We had a talk about things, we mixed some guys in and we were able to combat what they did in the second half. We were able to fight against their size and their speed and I think we did a way better job spreading the field, getting balls wide and using the space they gave us to get scoring opportunities moving forward.”
Nikolas Penta nearly scored the tying goal in the 50th minute, but the Blue Devils’ time was yet to come until the 63rd minute when Bravado ripped a shot from distance and put it in a corner of the goal that Central goalkeeper Harrison Ross had no chance of reaching.
“ He’s a special player, he does a lot for us,” Pugliese said. “He plays a full 80 minutes, he’s amazing with the ball at his feet and once he gets forward and finds his range he rarely misses the target. Just a bit of class and he found the opening and he did what he normally does.”
The match did not stay tied long as Palma was fouled near the box and had a free chance to score the game-winner from distance. He just reentered the game after sitting briefly to assess a potential injury and almost immediately took his opportunity to win the game. Palma put the perfect strike on his shot and put in into the goal with five minutes left to give Central the lead.
“ He had almost an identical shot in the first half on a foul right outside the box,” Jandreau said. “He earns the foul, and I think he knew he wasn’t going to give that up. He was standing over the ball and wouldn’t let anyone else take it. That’s what really good players do, they can adjust in the game to the mistake that they made. He didn’t put the first one on frame in the first half and the second one he buried.”