WATERBURY — A persistent drizzle coated Ryan Snyder Field at Municipal Stadium 20 minutes before the start of the Naugatuck Valley League boys soccer championship game last Thursday night.
By the time No. 1 Naugatuck and No. 2 Woodland squared off at midfield the drizzle turned into a steady rain, and the harder it rained, the harder the two teams went at each other. The Greyhounds outlasted Woodland, 2-1, to win their 11th NVL tournament title and 17th league championship overall.
“I’m extremely proud of this group,” Naugatuck head coach Ryan Kinne said. “Our captain and one of the best players in the league, Jay Barth, went out in the eighth game with a season-ending injury and the guys continued to power through to the championship game. That says a lot about our depth and our character.”
“That’s the beauty of this program,” Kinne added. “We have depth and a lot of talented players who can step up. Guys like Freddie Longo who didn’t play much two years ago when we went to the state championship and here he is a senior captain and was a tremendous player for us.”
The goals came early as a steady rain continued throughout the game.
Mateus Filho, who was named the most valuable player of the tournament, took a pass from Manny Silva and drove it to the back of the net from 15 yards out at the 37:32 mark to give Naugatuck (16-1-2) an early lead.
“Manny (Silva) touched the ball to me. I got the ball and saw the defender was behind me. I made the turn and Coach (Ryan Kinne) was saying, ‘Shoot, shoot!’ And I made the shot,” Filho told the Republican-American.
It didn’t take the Hawks (16-3) long to respond.
At the 31:37 mark, Dante Polletta steered a 25-yard direct kick through the hands of Naugy keeper David Green (6 saves) to tie the game at 1-1.
Those were the first goals either team had allowed in the tournament. Naugatuck would add one more.
Ahmed Aljamal passed the ball to Lucas Silva, who fired a shot that deflected past sprawled Woodland keeper Ryan Lamb (6 saves) at the 25:44 mark to put Naugy ahead 2-1.
The Hawks kept the pressure on Naugatuck in the second half, but numerous opportunities to tie the game turned into near misses.
Woodland’s Alex Farr sent a shot over the crossbar with about 5:30 left to play. A minute or so later, Farr’s shot in traffic rolled just wide of the far post. With a half-minute to play, Cole Barrows’ corner kick danced tantalizingly through the box without being touched.
“I’m very confident in my back line. Simon Diaz in the last couple of seconds had a phenomenal tackle (to prevent) a goal,” Green told the Republican-American. “They trust me. I trust them. We’re very resilient.”
Woodland ended Naugatuck’s run of five straight NVL titles last season in the semifinals. The Greyhounds run to a championship this year went through defending champion Watertown, too.
“After getting knocked out by Woodland in the semis (last year) this was a little payback and getting past last year’s champion Watertown made it feel even better,” Kinne said.
Woodland outshot Naugatuck 18-12 and managed to keep the ball down in Greyhounds’ end of the field for much of the second half, but the Hawks couldn’t get one to go and finished runner-up for the second year in a row.
“Before the season even started we set a goal of getting back to the championship game,” Woodland head coach Kenan Collins said. “For 80 minutes our kids played their hearts out. Some of them never came off the field and that makes me so proud at how they battled. I love these kids and my passion is soccer and when you mix the two together it’s a real joy to coach these kids.”
Naugatuck earned the No. 4 seed in the Class LL tournament and is scheduled to open the tournament against No. 29 Crosby on Monday.
Woodland earned the No. 4 seed in the Class M tournament and is scheduled to open the tournament against No. 29 Norwich Tech on Monday.
Second-round matches are set for Wednesday. The quarterfinals are set for Friday, and the semifinals and final are next week.
The Republican-American contributed to this article.