Hawks earn hard-fought win over Kennedy

Woodland’s Vigan Pacuku, left, races down the ball against Kennedy Monday night at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury. Pacuku netted the first goal for the Hawks in the game, as Woodland defeated Kennedy 3-2. –KYLE BRENNAN


WATERBURY — Eighteen to nothing was the combined score of the Kennedy boys soccer team’s first two losses to league contenders Naugatuck and Watertown. So the Woodland boys figured their Monday night match against the Eagles at Municipal Stadium was all but assured.

Not so fast.

The Hawks held on to several slim leads throughout the night but could never pull away. Adam MacDonald scored the eventual game-winner with 26 minutes remaining to give Woodland a 3-2 win to keep the defending league champ undefeated on the young season.

Longtime Woodland coach Tony Moutinho was upset with his team’s effort, especially early in the game.

“We put no effort into it,” Moutinho said. “We came into this game like it was a walk in the park and that we had the victory before we came onto the field. We showed that in the first half.”

MacDonald’s goal came 14 minutes into the second half when he took a lob pass over the defense and punched it over aggressive Kennedy goalkeeper Tyler Wrenn for a 3-1 lead.

Anthony Bartolini scored the Eagles’ two goals, both of which cut the Hawks’ lead to one. His second goal with 10:14 to play made it a 3-2 game, but Woodland’s defense and goalkeeper Patrick Dietz preserved the win.

The Hawks battled questionable officiating all night and especially in the second half, when they had a goal taken off the board with a late offside whistle atop the box. Moutinho tried to keep his players’ emotions in check.

“It’s very hard,” he said. “I try not to blame the refs. The players go by what the parents are yelling. I try to control them but it’s very hard.”

Woodland only managed 13 shots in the game but had at least twice as many legitimate opportunities. The Hawks left nearly a half-dozen goals on the field in the first half, as wide shots at close range and poor touches in the box squandered several chances.

“They have to build some confidence because they don’t think they’re as good as they are,” Moutinho said. “They don’t have the confidence yet to finish. Once they get the ball on their feet they get nervous. They still need a little time to jell.”

They finally got on the board midway through the first half when Vigan Pacuku took advantage of a goal kick that sailed over a group of players jostling for position. He broke away from the pack and beat Wrenn inside the box before tapping in the 1-0 lead.

Pacuku led the offense all night, tallying four shots and having several more opportunities.

“I think he’s the best player in the league,” Moutinho said. “If not the best, one of the best players in the league. He has everything you need from a player: ball control, speed, knows how to finish and play defense, and he can play any position.”

Woodland took a 2-0 lead 10 minutes later after Stephen Pec’s successful corner kick found Thomas Bethin’s head inside the box. The Kennedy defense deflected the kick just in front of the near post, slowing it down enough for Bethin to pop it between the pipes for a 2-0 advantage.

Dietz made 10 saves, including a pair on second-half direct kicks, for Woodland. Moutinho also said he considers Dietz one of the top goalkeepers in the league.

The Hawks’ streak of 19 regular-season wins in a row came to an end Wednesday as Torrington handed Woodland a 4-3 loss. The Hawks will visit Derby next Tuesday. Moutinho thinks the upcoming stretch will show where his team stands.

“We definitely have to play better to be competitive with the upper teams,” Moutinho said. “It’s going to be a challenge. We’ll know in a few weeks where we stand. I think we’re one of the top five teams in the league.”