Matt Pietro's late goal for the Cardinals offset Mike Maiorano's first-half tally for the Tigers to create a 1-1 tie.
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CANFIELD -- A change in offensive strategy in the second half enabled the Canfield High boys soccer team to escape with a 1-1 tie against Howland in a well-played defensive battle, and to maintain sole possession of first place in the Metro Athletic Conference.
"We switched formations 10 minutes into the second half. We were more offensive-minded with three forwards. We were pressing more out in front," said Canfield coach Phil Simone, whose Cardinals (7-1-1, 3-0-1) retained a one-game lead over Howland (5-1-2, 2-1-1) in the MAC.
Game tying goal
After the rejuvenated Cardinals' offense missed two straight shots, they finally clicked on the third try when junior Matt Pietro took a pass from the far right side by Dave Piersante and scored the tying goal with 11:26 remaining in the game.
That equalizer prevented Howland from winning on sophomore Mike Maiorano's header goal on a throw-in from junior Marc Dunbar near the Canfield net with about 4:30 remaining in the first half.
Pietro's tying goal was a line-drive shot from about 15 feet out that slammed into near the center of the Howland net.
Simone said that after Pietro took Piersante's pass, "He dribbled through about two people and then shot. His feints and ball skills [are outstanding]. He make a couple of nice jukes and read the defender well and beat him."
Canfield had two opportunities to win after Pietro's goal, but they failed top connect on both shots, although the last one came very close -- senior Mike Centorame's slam hit the right upright of the goal with about 3:40 to go.
Howland had missed a chance to go ahead by 2-0 in the second half when Maiorano had a clear shot on goal but lifted the ball too high.
"Canfield played a good defensive [second] half," said Howland coach George Stevens. But, "Our kids played as hard as they can play. We didn't make the big mistake. It was just an even match."
Cardinals get big save
Howland almost got its first score with about 15:00 remaining in the opening half, when senior Sauman Rafi passed to junior Marc Dunbar whose shot appeared headed into the net.
But Canfield's senior goalie, Brian Ricks, made a beautiful save to thwart the attempt. Ricks finished with 18 saves.
"Ricks played very well," said Simone, who also noted the performances of Pietro and Centorame. "Pietro always plays well. Mike Centorame played well."
Ricks also had a nice rejection of junior Sam Mann's try for Howland at 32:00 of the first half.
Meanwhile, the Tigers' senior goalie, Jonathan Airhart, registered eight saves, including two first-half stops on Centorame and senior Julian Donofrio.
Stevens praised the net-minding of Airhart and recognized strong defensive play from junior Amir Shehabi.
Like Howland, Canfield had plenty of chances to score with 20 shots on goal, including 13 in the second half.
Simone said the Cardinals got more aggressive in the second half, and started converging on the ball, pursuing the "50-50 balls" or the "balls up for grabs."