With the T.C. Williams defense hovering near the center circle for the majority of Thursday afternoon against Marshall, it was clear which side was applying the pressure. The source of that attacking thrust, though, came from just in front of the Titan midfielders.
There, senior halfbacks Alhaji Hassan and Conor Boyle held sway. Winning ball after ball, the two orchestrated a constant offensive that kept the Statesmen from getting back into a game that T.C. won 1-0 but had several chances to break open entirely.
“They owned the game for them,” said Marshall coach Ricardo Silva. “When one pushed up, the other one knew to move back.
“They just knew how to play off each other so it seemed like they’ve been playing together forever.”
Hassann and Boyle, who have played together for years, linked up about as well as they could, Boyle said.
“Me and Haji have known each other for a long, long time, even before T.C. soccer,” said Boyle, a senior and the Titan’s captain. “I think that was about as good as we played together in the first half.”
Considering how domineering the two were in controlling the middle of the pitch for the Titans (1-1), it was only fitting that a ball won by Boyle led to the game-winning tally in the 27th minute.
Boyle pounced on a short goal kick from Marshall goalkeeper Milton Cruz, heading it back over the last Statesmen defender and into the path of the on-rushing forward Matthew Coda.
Coda, pressing for the ball as Cruz left the mouth of the goal, appeared to miss a chance on goal but altered the ball’s path just enough that Cruz couldn’t secure it off of the bounce at the edge of the penalty area.
The ball came down at the feet of T.C.’s Mauricio Salvatierra who volleyed it into the empty net for the game’s lone goal.
The decisive score came after more than 20 minutes of Titan control in the attacking half of the field. In the first half alone, the hosts outshot the Statesmen 12-2.
The hosts nearly doubled their lead 15 minutes after the break, but keeper Cruz (seven saves) was up to the task.
At the top of the penalty area, Salvatierra collected a cross from the right flank and sent it through on the left for the overlapping William Longabaugh. The midfielder then chipped a short pass in to Dawit
Ayalew whose hard shot at the right side of the goal was parried away by Cruz.
“We were striking some good balls on goal but their goalie came up with some really good saves and their players were diving around in front of our shots as well,” said T.C. coach Martin Nickley.
Untested for most of the game, T.C. goalie Jose Flores made a critical one-on-one stop against Marshall winger Ajay Amin with five minutes to play to preserve the winning margin.
The Titans finished with a 21-7 advantage in shots and a 10-3 edge in corners.
“I really think in the beginning we should have had about three goals. We had a ton of chances,” Boyle said. “But it’s alright, 1-0 is a win as much as 3-0 is a win.”