NORTH STONINGTON — Wheeler High junior midfielder Matt Pierce is a big proponent of pressuring opposing team's backs.
"It's important because you have to force the defense to make mistakes. You have a lot more opportunities and it takes pressure off your midfield and forwards," Pierce said.
Pierce's aggressive style led directly to Wheeler's first goal and was one of the reasons the Lions emerged with a 3-0 boys soccer win over Plainfield on Saturday.
Wheeler (1-1) got on the scoreboard about 11 minutes into the game.
Pierce continually harassed and pressured a Plainfield back about 20 yards from the goal. He eventually knocked the ball away, and freshman Keiran Boscoe was able to possess the loose ball and score his first varsity goal from about 12 yards out.
About 10 minutes later, Pierce scored the Lions' second goal on a penalty kick.
Pierce won the ball near the left sideline in the middle of the field. He carried it down the left side where he eventually received shoulder-to-shoulder pressure from a defender. Pierce was able to hold his own and eventually got by him and made a diagonal run to the goal inside the 18-yard box, where he was taken down from behind resulting in the penalty kick.
"I got the ball and looked to turn up, and coach always tells me to take on the defense," Pierce said.
Wheeler pushed the lead to 3-0 with about 15 minutes remaining in the half.
Freshman Jonny Anderson started the play by carrying the ball down the left sideline. Anderson played a diagonal ball on the ground to Pierce, who one-timed the ball, but Plainfield goalie Joey Calorio made a diving save. The ball then bounced off the left post to Keiran Boscoe, who flicked it to Tim Robarge. Robarge, who had made a run from the right side of the field, one-timed it into the back of the net for the 3-0 lead.
"I think physically we won a lot more balls in the air today than we did the first game [a 5-1 loss to Griswold]," Pierce said. "We played more of a team game."
Pierce nearly scored again late in the first half when he was able to get a foot on a ball and slip it past a sliding Calorio. Pierce was on the left side of the 18-yard box with not much angle to work with. Still, it appeared his shot would go in before a Plainfield defender cleared it.
"When he attacks the space, things happen," Wheeler coach Joe Mendonca said.
Lukas Jones, Blake Stedman and freshman William Raggon played well for the Lions in the back.
"I thought we had more composure this game than our first game," said Jones, the lone senior on the Lions roster. "I think we were more aggressive for the 50-50 balls and, overall, just more confident."
Wheeler is playing with a new keeper in junior transfer Matt Ryan, who is new to the position. He replaced Bowen Baker, who was the goalie for four years.
But Jones said the job remains the same for the backline.
"Your job is to keep the ball away from the keeper, no matter who you have back there," Jones said. "It's really not that much different."
Mendonca said Ryan showed improvement from the first game.
"He's never played goalie before and this was his first shutout," Mendonca said. "The biggest thing is learning when to come off the line and understanding what is happening in the game. If he is not aware of that, he will get in trouble. We've been working on it and he's getting better. It just takes time."
Plainfield had a number of quality chances in the game, including a ball that bounced over the net just missing the crossbar. The Panthers (1-1) also failed to convert on a breakaway and two other quality shots within 15 yards.
"We were holding a high, straight line and it was working, but a few times they did catch us flat-footed or we were turned the wrong way," Jones said.
Wheeler finished with 11 shots on goal, while the Panthers had four. Wheeler next travels to Montville on Wednesday for a 6:30 p.m. game.