NAUGATUCK — For the first time in five years, the Naugatuck High boys soccer team heads into the season not as the defending Naugatuck Valley League champions.
The Greyhounds’ run of league titles ended last year with a loss to Woodland in the tournament semifinals.
“It still hurts,” coach Ryan Kinne said. “It stings and it doesn’t feel good right now, but it is what it is. We need to learn from it. We didn’t perform to our expectations last year, and the guys are coming in this year with a chip on their shoulder.”
Last season would not have been a disappointment for most schools. Naugatuck, which won the NVL title seven out of the past ten years, went 12-5-3, including a victory in both the NVL and state tournaments.
Naugatuck lost some key players from 2018, including Alex Teixeira, Jake Corbo and Thomas Martins. As usual, Naugatuck returns a deep and talented roster, including several underclassmen.
“We have a talented, young crew,” Kinne said. “Fred Longo has taken on a big role as a senior and a captain. Jay Barth has been a fantastic player for us the last couple of seasons, and he has taken an even bigger leap from last year to this year. Sophomore Manny Silva will take on a big role this year, as well as Chris Akindura, who started in a state final (in 2017) as a freshman.”
Defending NVL champion Watertown, which went undefeated in the regular season last year, is expected to be the favorite again this season, but Naugy is still expected to be among the top teams in the league along with Woodland and Holy Cross.
Kinne isn’t underestimating the level of competition in a deep NVL this season.
“The NVL is a toss-up every year,” Kinne said. “You know Woodland and Watertown will be there. But there are always teams that come out of nowhere. St. Paul was that team last year. A couple years ago, Ansonia had a good group of players that caused fits for some teams. I would expect another one of those teams to come up this year.”
Kinne said the team’s goal is to, once again, become the team-to-beat.
“We expect Naugatuck to be the team that is circled on everyone’s schedule, and we have to prepare for that,” Kinne said.
Naugatuck opens the season Thursday at home against Waterbury Career Academy. The Greyhounds will head on the road Saturday to take on Newtown in a rematch of last season’s Class LL first round matchup, which Naugatuck won 1-0.