WATERBURY — It wasn’t pretty, but the Hounds will take it.
The Naugatuck boys’ soccer team needed a go-ahead goal by freshman Adam Branco in the 77th minute, and senior Tiago Martins added an insurance score one minute later, to secure a 3-1 victory over Sacred Heart Monday afternoon at Bucks Hill Park.
Branco found himself open near the left post during a loose-ball situation in the box. He took a pass from senior Richard Mitchell and tapped it just enough to sneak it past the post and under the outstretched arm of the Hearts’ keeper.
“Coach took me and Jason Goja and told us to guard the back post,” Branco said. “You’re going to have to be scrappy and you’re going to have to go in on the ball. That was just a scrappy goal and I got lucky. The goal goes a little bit downhill there so the goalie reached but it went under him and I got fortunate. You have to be lucky on fields like this.”
The Greyhounds were frustrated with the rugged Bucks Hill Park field throughout the game, unable to control the bouncing ball on the hard ground and even running into problems with hitting an overhanging tree on several corner kicks.
“The condition of the field was not good,” Naugatuck head coach Art Nunes said. “The ball was bouncing over guys’ heads. It was hard to control. When we play on fields of this condition we have to control the ball better. We have to play the tempo in our favor and not rush. We want to be quick, but we don’t want to rush.”
After Sacred Heart controlled the ball during the first five minutes of the game, the Hounds forced play into its offensive half for almost the entire remainder of the first half.
The defending NVL champions had plenty of chances and finally converted when Martins corralled a loose ball inside the box and found senior Luis Carvalho near the right side of the 6-yard box in the 27th minute. Carvalho struck the ball solidly on the ground into the left side of the net for a 1-0 Naugy lead.
But the ball control the Hounds showed during the bulk of the first half ended immediately after their first goal as the Hearts moved back down the field and netted their first goal of the game on a connection from Michal D’Amelio to Brian Luis in the 29th minute.
For nearly the next 50 minutes, Sacred Heart tightened its defense and spoiled all of Naugatuck’s chances while nearly converting a couple of goals on direct kicks. It wasn’t until Branco found the net with less than four minutes left that Naugy scored again.
“I don’t think there was physical difficulty today,” Branco said. “We were thinking too much and being too hard on each other. We just weren’t listening. We just have to communicate. We just have to play and have some fun.”
“[Sacred Heart] packed in and played tight defense,” Nunes said. “They were very, very aggressive. They played the best game they could. I give them all the credit in the world. We struggled. We had a hard time keeping the ball on the ground. When we did get it on the ground, there was somebody there in front of us and we didn’t realize there were guys open on the outside.”
Martins added a goal just a minute later on a strike from the top of the 18-yard box.
“I told them the opportunities were going to come, and they did at the end. We got on them a little bit, but for the most part we encouraged them and told them to play our game and that it would work out and it did,” Nunes said. “It was a struggle, but it did.”