LUDLOW, Mass. – Goalscoring is as much an ability as it is a state of mind, at least according to Seacoast United Phantoms forward Anthony Grant.
With Friday’s contest against the Western Mass Pioneers knotted at 0-0 in the waning stages, the Phantom goalscorer wasn’t fretting. Rather, he was just biding his time. And when that time came, he pounced.
Grant, who led the Phantoms with 11 goals going into the game, scored his 12th in the 84th minute to send Seacoast United to a 1-0 win over the Pioneers at Lusitano Stadium.
“I know that if it doesn’t come the first time, just keep playing and hold your head up for the second time,” Grant said. “It’s a mentality; it’s patience. Once you work hard, and you have patience, it will come.”
Based on how the much of the match unfolded, it appeared that Grant’s goal – which put him one behind scoring leader Alencar Junior in PDL - wouldn’t come to pass on Friday.
In the early going, Phantoms goalkeeper Dom DiMaggio was called upon to quell a fierce Western Mass attack that, even without Junior, made its intentions known.
The Pioneers’ pressure featured some innovative combination play in the 15th minute. Will Daniels went wide, then sent it central for James Beeston, who found a pocket of space to uncork a shot. But his effort was interrupted by a late-arriving defender before it reached DiMaggio, who entered the game with a league-low 0.35 goals against average.
Grant found his first chance to scribble his name on the scoresheet in the 19th minute when he grabbed a long ball, and ran into space with only Warren Gross to beat. Gross stood his ground, then leaned to his right and denied the dangerous forward to keep the board unblemished.
But the Pioneers, who entered the contest with the division’s best offense, were out for blood against the first-place Phantoms. In the 38th minute, Maxi Viera sent a free kick in the box for Michael Matera, but the defender’s header went well wide of frame. Another chance materialized in stoppage time prior to the interval when Beeston broke free into the box and volleyed a shot that DiMaggio tipped over the bar to keep the Pioneers off the board going into the break.
“Sometimes, one little piece is missing at the wrong time, and that’s all it takes,” Gross said. “We’re moving well, we’re creating opportunities, it’s just a matter of the finishing touch, that extra little push at the end.”
Despite the absence of Junior – who was not seen at the stadium on Friday – the Pioneers poured a slew of crosses into the box, hopeful that Viera or Beeston could usher it through. But the tall Phantom defenders successfully sent many of them out of harm’s way.
While the hosts may have found themselves frustrated with nothing to show for their efforts through the hour, the guests started to return fire as the second half progressed. Abel Cardona made a number of ventures forward, and linked up with Trent Lougheed, who pulled the trigger on a close range shot that was walled up by a Pioneer defender in the 55th minute.
But it wasn’t until the 84th minute that the match finally tipped to one side. Andre Simmond went down the right, and found Grant inside the area, where he delicately redirected on frame. The deflection slipped through the grasp of Gross before it tucked itself into the back of the net.
“It was a good dribble from my teammate, Andre,” Grant said. “He pulled three defenders toward him, and then he played it out wide, and then I just have to do the rest. I just faked to the left, then went to the right, and finished it.”
The Pioneers would not go quietly, though. In stoppage time, Michael Matera sent a pass forward for Sean Bucknor, whose shot streaked right over the bar. But Bucknor’s shot proved to be the last chance for the hosts to salvage a point from Friday’s affair.
While Junior’s absence was certainly evident, Pioneers coach Federico Molinari said that the striker’s absence wasn’t the reason why his club came up short.
“We didn’t lose today because of him (not being here),” Molinari said. “We lost today because we couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net.”