WATERBURY — As rain drops started to fall, rinsing off remnant whiskers from another championship mustache-shaving, Naugatuck boys’ soccer coach Art Nunes pointed to assistant Brian Mariano and declared, “Now your class can’t say it’s the only one to win four NVL titles.”
Nunes’ Greyhounds had just defeated Watertown, 2-1, in Thursday’s Naugatuck Valley League championship game at Municipal Stadium, members of the class of 2010 relishing their chance to expose the head coach’s upper lip in what has become as much a Naugy tradition as winning itself. The championship was the seniors’ fourth in as many years, matching Mariano and the class of 2002.
“It’s a class that’s been really closely-knit—starters, non-starters—everybody,” Nunes said of his seniors. “They’re tight, and they really love to play.”
Fittingly, it was a senior, Ralph Roper, who catalyzed the Hounds’ first goal. On a right-side corner kick in the 34th minute, Roper lofted the ball over Indians’ goalkeeper Josh Acuna and three defenders, onto the forehead of a leaping Marcos Soares, who spiked it off the turf and into the net for a 1-0 lead.
“I just knew my guys would come through if I put it in the right spot,” Roper said. “So I set my foot right, it was a good ball, and they capitalized on the situation.”
The tally was a breakthrough for the Garnet and Grey, who had been unable to convert several early scoring chances, including a tantalizing opportunity in minute 20, when Soares beat Acuna with a low, hard hopper, only to have Watertown defender Chris Fonseca bail out his keeper by deflecting the ball away from the cage. Naugatuck also had an apparent goal called back by a late offside call.
“Most of the times when we were possessing in the first half and had great opportunities and couldn’t put one in. We couldn’t finish it. We couldn’t put one through,” Nunes said. “And that gets you worried. That starts making you think, ‘Oh my God. They got an opportunity here because we’re not finishing this. We’re not capitalizing on it, and they’re going to come through, and something’s gonna happen.”
Eventually, something did happen. With the score still 1-0 Greyhounds in the 69th minute, a floating Nick Polletta intercepted Nolan Kinne’s headed clear attempt, blasting the ball over the outstretched arms of keeper Donato Piroscafo and tying the game.
Watertown almost seized the lead moments later, when defender Marcello Orsini booted a soccer version of an outlet pass to striker Andrew Ferrucci, charging ahead of three Greyhounds. In perhaps the hustle move of his career, Naugy senior sweeper Wilson Lima, who among the NHS trio had been the farthest from Ferrucci, somehow closed the gap and disrupted the Indians’ star enough to make him spray the shot wide right.
“Andrew’s an unbelievable player,” Lima said. “He’s hard to guard, fast. He knows what to do with the ball. You can’t let him shoot ‘cuz, you know, it’s over.”
The contest was a much-anticipated rematch between two teams that dominated the NVL’s regular season, compiling a 27-1-2 combined record in-league. One hundred minutes was not enough to determine a winner in their first meeting, a 1-1 draw Oct. 5 in the borough.
Remembering that game, Lima expected a challenge Thursday.
“I knew they would come out hard, and I was hoping they’d come out hard,” he said. “I was looking for a very hard game, and I appreciated everything they put forth.”
According to Roper, last month’s match provided more than a promise of competitiveness—it also gave Naugatuck a clue about how to beat the Indians.
“[We learned] that their backs are kind of weak—their fullbacks, the defenders—so we should push the ball to the outside more and try to cut in,” he said.
Outside-in is exactly how Naugatuck notched the game-winner. Junior Riker Mitchell, enjoying a 10-yard cushion along the left sideline, chipped an arcing cross toward the center of the goal, which essentially became a jump ball between Hounds’ striker Tiago Martins and Acuna. Martins won, using his mop-topped noggin to deliver the clinching score and one more NVL championship to the heavily-decorated program.
Nunes said the goal, which came just 1:06 after Watertown had pulled even, showed his team’s resilience.
“Phenomenal. But that’s the team,” he said. “That’s the whole group of guys saying, ‘OK, we made a mistake’—it wasn’t a mistake; it was a great play on their part—but they feel like, ‘OK, we gotta fix this.’”