NEEDHAM, Mass. -– The No. 17 Framingham Flyers went into Thursday afternoon’s game with No. 2 Needham at DeFazio Field needing a win to tie the Rockets at the top of the Bay State Conference’s Carey division.
Framingham dominated the first half, but after the break the defending state champions started to control play and finished as the stronger team. Despite a host of chances, neither team could find the back of the net and it ended 0-0, leaving Needham on top with just a few more league games left on the schedule.
“I thought we played good in the first half and in the second I thought they had us on our heels a little bit,” said Framingham head coach Dan Avery. “We had one stretch in the second where we applied pressure, but I can’t believe it was 0-0 at halftime.”
He added, “The way we played in the first half, we needed to have the lead.”
Needham came close early in the first half when junior captain Aram Ouligian took a ball on the half-volley but lifted it just a foot over the bar. That would be the last, solid chance for the Rockets in the opening 40 minutes as the Flyers attackers kept Needham back on their heels.
Midway through the first half, junior captain Brian Nardizzi and Joao Costa played a one-two on the edge of the box, before Costa slid the ball into the path of Vinny Matias. Matias took a touch but his shot was into the chest of Needham keeper Adam Lassman. A few minutes later, Nardizzi again found space on the left side of the box and drove to the byline, but his cross to the oncoming Matheus Correa was scrambled away by the Needham defense.
Just before halftime, junior Doug Ferreira hit a shot that no one on the Needham defense had any chance of stopping, including Lassman. But, unfortunately for the Flyers, the shot that seemed destined for the top corner, drifted off the far post, dribbled across the line, and slipped out the other side. It was inches from being a golazo, instead it was another opportunity missed.
“We knew they had great skills,” said Needham head coach Don Brock about the Flyers attackers. “[The defense was] getting bitten in the first half; guys were faking and they were diving in so we told them to stay away from that.”
When asked if he had made any halftime adjustments, Brock replied, “No we didn’t. We just told them to be more aggressive and to mark their men a little tighter.”
The instructions may seem simple, but the Rockets were a much different team after halftime and the hosts started to take control of the midfield. With Ouligian and junior Paul Kondratyev winning the ball back and distributing it out wide to attackers Matthew Brand, Jason Miller, and Don Igo, Needham started to create chances and force the Flyers back.
Ouligian missed a pair of headers from inside the box as the Rockets started to play dangerous crosses into the box. The best chance for either team came on a cross from left back Andres Pinto to Kondratyev, who had raced into the box but could not keep his volley under the bar.
“[We] just didn’t create enough opportunities in the second half and I don’t really have a good reason why that happened,” said Avery. Obviously, if I could have told you why, then I would’ve done something about it.”
The draw keeps Needham on top of the Carey division and keeps the defending champs unbeaten this season, despite losing nine starters from last year’s team. Brock, who is now in his 46th season as coach, credited the strength of the overall program for keeping the Rockets relevant again this year.
He said, “We obviously lost some key players, no question about it, but our JV squad and freshmen squad coaches and staff have done an outstanding job. We have a good system here in Needham and we’re proud of it.”
Brock added, “It’s a young squad; I only have two or three seniors that are contributing. I’m pleased with how the progress has gone this season.”
Framingham will be disappointed to not get the victory that would have brought it back to the top of the standings, but Avery is pleased with his team’s effort and has high expectations for the postseason.
“We have the skill to compete with anybody; it’s the mindset,” he remarked. “Just keeping composure and playing with poise, I think that’s the key for us.”