BY KEN MORSE
The Naugatuck Nitros U15 soccer team didn’t look or even feel like they belonged among the premier teams competing for the National Presidents Cup, but certainly made believers out of all who were there in Wichita, Kansas, from July 7-11, finishing third in the nation.
“I’m so proud of what these young kids accomplished,” said Nitros head coach Jaime Pereira. “They were a little intimidated at first, but once they played the first game they realized they were good enough to be there. Honestly, I can’t thank the community of Naugatuck enough and the people who stepped up to help us financially to get to the Presidents Cup. This town is like a family.”
The Nitros faced a similar situation at the United States Youth Soccer Eastern Regionals of the Presidents Cup championship tournament and then ran the table, winning five straight to capture the title and go to Nationals.
The Nitros are made up of 18 players, with 12 being members of the freshman and JV team at Naugatuck. This team lost just two games over the last two and a half years and that success was built by Pereira and assistants Carlos Coelho and AJ Oliveira, along with team manager Michelle Grella.
The Nitros battled to a scoreless tie in the opening round of the tournament on July 7 against HFC White. Goalkeeper Rocco Grella was still recovering from an injury and Kaleb Vaituzis took over in goal. Once again it was the strength of the Nitros defense that held opponents to just two goals. Center back Jordan Francis, along with Austin Zarrella, Tiago Oliveira and Deric Eshaghi, kept HFC off the scoreboard.
“We had our chances, we just didn’t finish well,” said Pereira. “I think it might have been nerves the first time out there, but we played hard and the defense did a great job.”
On July 8 the Nitros shifted gears and took a 2-1 victory over the Quad City Strikers. Alex Carbone and Matteo Aguilar tallied the two scores to secure the win for Naugy. The Nitros controlled the action with midfielders Jayse Danuszar, Ash Rajkumar, Tiago Pereira and Haroun Sami directing the attack to Aidan Petrie, Geni Ismaili, Ismael Mujica and Elliott Farias.
“We played with confidence,” said Pereira. “We came out and took the lead and the defense played as hard as they did in the first game. The kids were really excited after that win.”
Naugy (1-0-2) won the ‘A’ Division with five team points after battling Meta Sports FC to a 3-3 tie on July 9, which earned them a spot in the semifinals. Nick DeMelo, Antonio Guerreiro and Nico Soden sent shots to the back of the net for the Nitros.
“We were down 1-0 and came back to tie the game,” said Pereira. “Then we took the momentum and went ahead, 2-1 and 3-2, but they ended up scoring late and tied it.”
The Nitros faced off against Carol Stream Panthers and came up on the short end of a 2-0 final. Naugy battled right to the end and tied the game at 1-1, but the referee waved off the goal and the Panthers tallied a late goal with time running out.
“We told the kids you deserve to be here,” added Pereira. “We won fair and square the Eastern Regionals, and we were the only town team here. All the others were premier teams. And to finish third in the nation, that is saying something. The opponents might not have known where Naugatuck came from but they know now.”
BY KEN MORSE