NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck boys’ soccer team suffered an arduous 1-0 loss to Ridgefield last Thursday in the second round of the Class LL state tournament, ending the Hounds’ season.
Naugatuck entered the Class LL tourney as the No. 2 seed and shut out 31st-ranked East Hartford 2-0 in the first round. Ridgefield was seeded 18th and defeated Newtown 1-0 in the first round.
The Tigers capitalized on the Greyhounds’ injuries, including one to Marcos Soares in the second half, while also maintaining a formidable defense when Naugatuck’s began to tire. With 10 minutes left in the second half, Ridgefield’s Andrew Carlson took a pass from Joseph DeVivo and scored the game-winning goal on a hard-luck play for Naugy.
“That’s how they won,” said Naugatuck coach Art Nunes. “I told my assistant coach it was going to be a bad bounce, a ball that we’re clearing that’s going to hit somebody and bounces in the wrong direction or comes up on somebody’s foot and they’re going to go straight to the goal. And sure enough we tried to clear it, it hit somebody, bounced right to their guy, and he goes in and makes the goal.”
The injury to Soares didn’t help the Hounds’ effort.
“The injury to Marcos early in the second half made us have to change the lineup around and make moves we didn’t initially want to make,” Nunes said.
The first half was full of great saves by both Naugatuck goalkeeper Dan Bronko (seven saves) and Ridgefield’s Matthew Knizeski (two), as well as a number of near-miss headers and line-drive strikes. With aggressive, powerful offense and defense on both sides, the game was evenly matched throughout the first half, while a Naugatuck shot off the post kept the game at 0-0. Nunes later considered a missed opportunity a game-changer.
“We had the ball hit the post,” Nunes said. “If it hits the inside of the post and goes into the back of the net, the whole game changes because they can’t play so many people back on defense. They have to play up front to try to tie or win the game instead. But it stayed in their favor by keeping the box packed and forcing long balls over the top and then they got in there.”
After the loss, Nunes was able to put the season in perspective.
“It was a great year,” Nunes said. “13-0-3 in the league, wins in the tournament. Would we have liked to win the NVLs? Yes. Would we have liked to continue today? Yes. But how could you say anything bad about a season when you have two losses?
“It was a tremendous year,” Nunes added. “It’s dedicated to these kids that come out here and work so hard for the game. They practice year-round, they stay together, they’re united. Just a tremendous accomplishment for all these kids.”
Though it was clear that Nunes, fellow coaches, and players were disappointed by the loss, Nunes’ attitude toward the future of the program seemed hopeful, calculated and determined.
“We’re going to have to assess all the younger players that are coming up, look position by position, place by place,” Nunes said. “We have a good idea already. We’ve been working out some of the younger guys from JV, having them come to practices. And we’ll go from there. We’re losing a tremendous class, but we always manage to make changes and adaptations and we do whatever we need to do.”