NAUGATUCK — High expectations come with the territory in Naugatuck. It’s hard for the boys soccer team to accept anything but the best after playing for the Naugatuck Valley League championship in 13 of the last 15 seasons, winning 11 titles.
The last crown came in 2009, the last of four straight championships. Last year the Greyhounds didn’t get to play in the final after eventual champion Woodland knocked off the ‘Hounds in the semifinals.
For the Copper Division-winning Greyhounds, who finished the season 12-7-1, it was an achievement to get that far with the way the season started. Naugy had a 1-2 start and for the first time in more than a decade it had a losing record as their inexperience showed.
“Last year we took our lumps,” Naugatuck head coach Art Nunes said. “We had a lot of inexperience and went with a different lineup almost every game. But that has paid off for us. A lot of these younger players got a lot of valuable experience, and it’s beginning to show in the preseason practices.”
Nunes, entering his 18th season at the helm, has junior varsity coach Brian Mariano and freshman coach Mingo Branco to help put the pieces together for another run at an NVL title.
The team’s theme in the preseason has revolved around opportunity.
“We graduated eight senior starters and there are a lot of open positions,” Nunes said. “It’s a good opportunity for the underclassmen to show how much they have improved from last season.”
Leading the quest for another title run will be senior captains Jason Goja (All-NVL midfielder) and Jordan Bronko (midfield) along with junior captain Adam Branco (midfield).
“The strength of this team will be up the middle,” Nunes said. “We are going to drop Goja back where he can use his soccer smarts on defense. Jordan was injured last year and he’s still working his way back. Adam is a real good impact player to lead a strong group at midfield.”
Senior Matt Bode gained some valuable experience in goal last season and will be back to help solidify the defense. Several other underclassmen are vying for playing time in the goal for the ‘Hounds.
“Defense is always a tremendous point of contention,” Nunes said. “We have seven kids trying out for the goalkeeper position. A few of the underclassmen have shown good promise.”
Naugatuck scored 63 goals last season but gave up a relatively high total of 38. For Naugatuck’s standards it’s one phase of the game that needs improvement in order to reach another title game.
Seniors Isaque Monteiro, Patrick Alves, Mike Martins and Ryan Massicott will team up with juniors Fernando Branco, David DeOliveira and Billy Zavodjancik to give the Greyhounds a solid midfield and a strong defensive presence.
When Naugatuck is looking to put pressure on the scoring end it needs to look no further than a group of young speedy sophomores who gained experience last season.
Ygor Silva, Joe Martins, Dan Martins and Dan Silva all possess the speed, savvy and fancy footwork to light up the scoreboard for the ‘Hounds.
Nunes hopes his emerging team can take advantage of other teams’ losses heading into this season.
“It’s really not that we have gone down,” Nunes said of the team’s title drought. “It’s the fact that the middle-of-the-pack teams have all improved. The top teams in the league suffered heavy graduation losses coming into this season. It will be very difficult to maintain the traditional place in the standings. The goal for us is the same as always, to compete for another NVL title and go as deep as we can in the state tournament. But getting there will be much more difficult than in years past.”
Naugatuck opens the season at home Sept. 11 against Kennedy before traveling to St. Paul on Friday.