NAUGATUCK — Two years ago, Tiago Martins was Naugatuck’s secret weapon. While opponents were focusing on stopping top scorer Tony Sendra, Martins, then only a sophomore, quietly walked away with the MVP of the NVL championship game.
The only bad part about secret weapons is they don’t remain secret for very long. Martins came into last season with a huge target on his back, but still managed to rattle off 25 goals as the Naugatuck boy’s soccer team finished 18-2-1.
A fourth-straight NVL championship did little to take the sting out of a second-round loss to Shelton in the Class LL state tournament. The Hounds graduated 12 seniors, including three of four defensive starters and the starting goalkeeper, but head coach Art Nunes remains optimistic about Naugatuck’s chances this season. Martins comes in as an All-NVL, All-State, All-New England and All-American forward.
“Obviously, opponents will be coming in with the number-one priority of stopping Tiago Martins,” said Nunes, who enters his 15th season with 11 NVL titles and two state championships under his belt to go along with an impressive 240-34-14 record.
“We graduated a large group of seniors, including three-fourths of our defense, but we have 18 seniors coming in ready to take on the roles that were vacated.”
Last year’s seniors became just the second graduating class at Naugatuck to earn NVL titles in all four years.
Martins has helped to fuel the fire, scoring 44 goals in the last two seasons as the Hounds have compiled a record of 33-5-2. Martins’ first goal this season will be career goal number 50, but it will take every member of the team if the Greyhounds want to talk away with their fifth-straight NVL championship.
Soccer is more than a one-man attack, and that’s where the Hounds’ supporting cast comes into play.
“As seniors, we would like to end our careers being the third graduating class to win four NVL titles,” Martins said. “But it’s going to take everyone to get it done. I know every team is going to come out and try and knock us off. We just have to come out and be ready to give 110 percent.”
Martins—who has drawn interest from Southern Connecticut State University, the University of New Haven, Sacred Heart University, the University of Bridgeport, the University of Hartford and Monmouth University—will need to stay focused and get the entire supporting cast to play as one in order for the Greyhounds to reap the benefits of another successful season.
“There’s a little bit of pressure coming into the season,” Martins admitted. “We don’t want to be the class that drops the ball with four straight titles on the line. But if everyone comes out and does their job, we will be successful. It can’t just be me getting the ball every time.
“We do have other scoring options in Marco Soares and Nolan Kinne,” Martins continued. “So, it’s not all on me, it’s on everyone to come out and do their job.”
If Naugatuck is to repeat for a fifth-straight NVL title it will all begin on defense, where seniors Richard Mitchell and Riker Mitchell will take up duty outside the box in front of senior goalkeeper Dan Bronko.
Seniors Martin and Marco Soares will team up with junior Nolan Kinne, a second team All-NVL midfielder, to put points on the board for the Greyhounds. Naugatuck will also look toward its experience, relying on seniors Jack DeOliveira, Luis Carvalho, Andre Jimenez and Kyle Creem along with Brett Philips, Ruben Ferreira, Kassem Yousef, Leonardo Soares, Jon Silva and Ryan Silva.
Juniors Matt Schumacher, Chris Szarzynsky and Manny Oliveira will fit into the mix along with sophomores Jordan Bronko and Jason Goja.
“The strength of this team is up the middle,” Nunes said. “Many of the younger players are looking to make their mark on the rich tradition of boys soccer at Naugatuck. That allows us to mix in some of the youth with a lot of returning experience. But the league will be very competitive this season.
“A lot of the middle-of-the-road teams come back with almost all their starters,” he continued. “Not only do we have to watch out for Torrington, Holy Cross, Seymour and Watertown, I think there will be a lot of parity in the league. It should be an interesting race to the finish.”
Naugatuck will find out just how improved the league will be when they open the season on Tuesday, Sept. 14 at home against Crosby at 6 p.m. On Friday the 17th, the Greyhounds will travel to Wolcott to take on another much-improved opponent.