Hawks turn to defense on the pitch

Woodland’s Joshua Powanda (20) and Naugatuck’s Bruno Silva (11) battle for the ball Sept. 20 at Naugatuck High School. Naugatuck and Woodland tied, 1-1. -EMILY J. REYNOLDS/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

BEACON FALLS — It’s not the type of soccer Woodland boys soccer coach Tony Moutinho usually likes to see with his teams, but it’s working so far this fall.

Through their first six matches of the season, the Hawks have established themselves as a defensive powerhouse that does just enough to get by on the offensive side. Goalkeeper Ryan Lamb and his defensive unit pitched four shutouts in that stretch to help Woodland get off to a 4-0-2 start.

“Our keeper and defense are keeping us in every game,” Moutinho said. “We go on the counterattack, score a goal here or there, and that’s how we’re getting our wins. We have no choice. I like offense, but you have to play the cards you’re dealt. We’re just trying to win.”

Lamb, a junior who saw some time in the varsity net last season, has vastly improved his play from a year ago. He made seven saves in a 1-1 tie against defending Naugatuck Valley League champion Naugatuck on Sept. 20 and another seven stops in a 2-0 win over Ansonia on Sept. 24.

“He’s reading the game a lot better,” Moutinho said. “He anticipates and comes out (of the goal). Last year he was afraid to, but this year he comes out and is very active.”

Woodland’s somewhat sluggish offense can be attributed in part to the back injury that has held out top threat Maciej Lewicki since the preseason. Originally thought to possibly be a season-ending injury, the Hawks hope to have him back by the end of the regular season.

In the meantime, a few other players have stepped in to fill the scoring void. Josh Powanda netted the Hawks’ lone goal against Naugatuck, and Dante and Devon Polletta scored the goals against Ansonia. Jason Claiborn, a standout on the baseball team, has added front-line scoring duties in soccer to his athletic resume this fall, too.

“Jason Claiborn has stepped up,” Moutinho said. “He’s not the most gifted soccer player, but he has an eye for the goal and is there in key moments. The (Polletta) twins have stepped up and are scoring, too.”

The 1-1 tie against Naugatuck, the five-time defending league champion, inspired extra confidence in the Hawks.

“We can compete with anybody in the league,” Moutinho said. “I told the players that we’re good enough to compete with anybody in the league or out of the league. We’re hoping we can get Lewicki back in a couple of weeks, and that would change our mindset from defense to offense. We have to stay focused. Even if we lose a game, we can’t give up. We’re good enough to compete with anybody.”

The Hawks is set for a three-game homestand with home matches against Amity (Saturday), Wolcott (Tuesday) and St. Paul (Thursday). Woodland will face a key test next Friday when it visits Watertown.