WATERBURY — For the Naugatuck boys soccer seniors there was only one thing that had eluded them during their high school careers: a Naugatuck Valley League title.
Led by all-time leading scorer Adam Branco and a senior-laden group behind him, the undefeated Greyhounds finally got their prize by knocking off No. 2-seeded Torrington, 4-1, last Wednesday at Municipal Stadium to take the league championship.
“These seniors didn’t want to be remembered as the first class not to win an NVL title,” Naugatuck coach Art Nunes said. “They set their minds to win this league early in the season and they used that as their motivation.”
Adam Branco ruled the league with plenty of other seniors, including a defense led by Tyler Saad, David DeOliveira, Ben Reinhard and Osmund Tingstad and a group of midfielders and forwards including Fernando Branco, Jason Starzynski, Josh Corbo, Facundo Coitino, Matt Medeiros and Julius Schoebel.
Torrington set its all-time school record for wins this season and nearly handed the Greyhounds their only loss in a 3-2, white-knuckle affair earlier in the fall. The Red Raiders weren’t nearly as close last Wednesday, falling in an all-out bruise-fest that saw seven yellow cards issued by an overzealous referee.
It was obvious from the start that Naugatuck was not to be denied. Saad, Tingstad, Reinhard and Devon Curtis set the tone early on defense as Torrington had very few chances on offense to make a difference.
Corbo, Ygor Silva, Joe Martins and Dan Silva put up an effort at midfield that kept the possession in the Greyhounds’ grasp for much of the first half. It only took nine minutes for the ‘Hounds to strike as Adam Branco drew a defensive presence and dished it off to Dan Silva, who blasted a shot that went in and out of the hands of Torrington goalkeeper Zach Paniati and settled into the back of the net for a 1-0 advantage.
“This is not about any one player,” Adam Branco said. “We have a huge supporting cast of talented players. It doesn’t matter who scores; we play this game as a team and we all love to play the game of soccer. The reason we win is we all pull for one another and we all play as a team.”
Naugatuck was back at it with 25:58 left in the half. Martins found Ygor Silva alone at the far post and the blast nullified the fistful-of-jersey defense by the Raiders to open a 2-0 lead.
“We just came out and played the Naugatuck way,” Ygor Silva said. “We knew it would be physical we were playing for an NVL title but there was nothing that was going to deny us.”
Any doubt about the outcome was settled with 4:38 left in the half. Diogo Cruz, Starzynski and Coitino battled to gain possession at midfield and Corbo fed Adam Branco with a ball just outside the box. Branco lifted a shot that made it under the crossbar for a 3-0 Naugatuck lead going into halftime.
“Everyone has been talking about how tough Torrington would be,” Nunes said. “We were getting no respect in spite of being undefeated. A lot of people were thinking we got lucky but we showed what this team is capable of.”
Adam Branco nailed a wide-open shot with 33:39 to go in the second half to open up a 4-0 advantage. The Raiders managed to get on the board with 21 minutes left when Shane Bierfeldt got one to go past Fez Pereira on a blast from the left corner but the Naugatuck goalkeeper went on to turn back seven shots on goal to secure the NVL title.
Naugatuck (19-0) earned the No. 1 seed in the Class L state tournament and hosts No. 17 Masuk at 3 p.m. Thursday in the second round.