NEWTOWN — The road hasn’t always been easy — and sometimes it wasn’t pretty — but it will end in the Class LL state title game for the Naugatuck boys soccer team.
Through sheer will and determination, the No. 1 Greyhounds beat No. 20 Norwalk, 1-0, in overtime in a semifinal game Monday night. Naugatuck (19-1-2) will face No. 2 Glastonbury on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Willow Brook Park in New Britain.
“Norwalk is a fantastic team and they never gave in,” Naugatuck head coach Ryan Kinne said. “This group of guys that we have is something special. Ever since the NVL tournament started they have been resilient. They play with pride, they play with passion and they play for the name on the front of their jersey. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys than I am right now. It’s just a perfect example of not giving up on any play and playing it out until the end.”
Naugatuck and Norwalk (13-7-2) sat tied at 0-0 after 80 minutes. It didn’t take long for the Greyhounds to strike in overtime.
Two minutes into the first overtime session Naugatuck’s Chris Akinduro received a pass and was taken down inside the box, and Naugy was awarded a penalty kick.
Vinny Knupp lined up the penalty kick and buried one in the back of the net past Norwalk goalie Gianluca Trofa for the only goal that was needed.
“I just waited for the keeper,” Knupp said. “He decides where I want to put the ball. We worked so hard on every single ball and we got the results.”
Norwalk nearly got the equalizer as the final seconds ticked off the clock in the first overtime session.
The Bears hurried into the box in front of Naugy goal keeper Aren Seeger, and Norwalk’s Sebastian Echeverri got off a shot off that Seeger managed to save. Echeverri somehow got the rebound and laying on the ground sent another attempt at the Naugy goal with just 15 seconds left in the period. The shot had the angle until defender Alex Teixeira slid in from behind at the line and got a leg on it.
The ball ricocheted straight up and slammed into the crossbar only to have Seeger reach out and secure the rebound.
“I shifted over and got lucky with the save,” said Seeger, who has allowed only four goals all season. “Tex came up with a goal-line clearance and we are going to the final.”
“I had to put something on that shot,” Teixeira said. “The ball bounced off the crossbar and Aren was there to save it.”
Naugatuck held the Bears off the scoreboard in the second overtime session to preserve the win.
Naugatuck went into the tournament having spent the last 15 years trying to get back to the championship game. Eight times they saw the journey end in their first game. But this team is different.
The Greyhounds earned a bye in the first round and won their second round game over No. 17 East Hartford, 2-0. Naugatuck beat No. 25 Wilbur Cross, 4-2, in the quarterfinals.
Akinduro scored both goals in the win against East Hartford. Knupp tailed two goals in the quarterfinal win over Wilbur Cross. Carroll and Akinduro added second half goals to preserve the win over Wilbur Cross.
“It’s been way too long since we have been back to the finals and it speaks volumes of the character of this team,” Kinne said. “I challenged them at the beginning of the year and they have all stepped up to that challenge.”