Boys Soccer: Slow start forces Riverhead to play catch-up

BILL LANDON PHOTO | Riverhead senior Andrew Ruggerio sends the ball toward a leaping East Islip defender Tuesday afternoon.


Riverhead coach Lamine Traore believes the game doesn’t begin on the first whistle. It’s the mental and physical preparation before the game that can be just as important.

“The game starts before you get onto the field,” Traore said.

It’s a message he’s tried delivering to his players after another slow start put them in an early hole at East Islip Tuesday afternoon. The Redmen needed only 63 seconds to score the game’s first goal, forcing Riverhead to immediately play from behind.

While the Blue Waves eventually netted an equalizer late in the second half, the Redmen responded shortly after with another goal to win the game, 2-1. It was the fifth straight loss for Riverhead in League III after opening the season with a promising start by winning two out of three.

It was a similar script to the Blue Waves’ first meeting with East Islip, which was also a 2-1 loss in a game that went into overtime. When the Blue Waves started to play their game, they managed to maintain possession deep in East Islip territory and generate scoring chances. But it wasn’t enough.

The Blue Waves (2-6 League III) wanted to keep the ball on the ground and not allow East Islip (4-2-2 League III) to exploit its size advantage.

“I told them, the only way this team will bet you is if you play their game,” Traore said.

The Redmen struck for the opening goal on a touch pass from Mike Simonetti to Steven Braccioforte, who got behind the Blue Waves’ defense. Riverhead goalkeeper Ryan DiResta charged toward the ball and got caught in between. Braccioforte lofted a high shot that sailed untouched into the back of the net.

The Blue Waves got some early chances to answer. They got four shots on goal in the first 10 minutes, including one from senior Demar Mason. He sent a long ball into the box and East Islip goalkeeper Frank Noviello came out to get his hands on it. But he couldn’t fully control it, and the ball skidded behind him and hit the post.

Traore said they wanted to keep the pressure on Noviello.

It worked later in the game, when forward Denis Escalante fired a seemingly harmless shot from deep in the middle of the field. The ball slipped off the fingertips of Noviello again and rolled into the back of the net.

With 11:53 left in the game, the Blue Waves had their equalizer and all the momentum.

But Noviello made up for his early mistake by making a terrific save to prevent Riverhead from taking the lead. A little over a minute after Riverhead tied the game, the Blue Waves were awarded a direct kick from a few yards outside the penalty area because of a handball.

Sophomore Anthony Antunes set up for the kick and launched a shot toward the far post that Noviello knocked out of bounds with two hands while fully air-borne and practically parallel to the ground.

The Blue Waves got a corner kick out of it, but couldn’t convert.

Antunes got another chance on a direct kick a few minutes later as the Blue Waves kept the pressure up. But this time the Redmen blocked the kick with their wall.

The Redmen quickly got the ball in transition and Zachary Acocella scored the game-winning goal with 7:21 left. The play was set up by an East Islip throw-in near midfield. The Redmen worked the ball up along the left sideline while the Blue Waves’ defense got caught out of position.

Dan Munar fired a shot from the left side that DiResta made a diving stop on. But Acocella was right there to put in the rebound inside the right post.

The goal for Escalante was his first of his varsity career after a recent call-up from JV.

“Very good start,” Traore said.

The Blue Waves will try to end the losing streak Thursday when they return home to play Centereach. Riverhead won 2-0 in the first meeting between the schools this season.

“We have a very young team,” Traore said. “I think sometimes we fall because of our inexperience.”

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