NAUGATUCK — It starts at the top with a coaching staff that is made up of former Naugatuck Greyhound soccer captains and goes through every player right down to the last one. A tradition of excellence is what has produced 11 Naugatuck Valley League titles in the past 14 seasons and two state championships in 2001-2002.
Naugatuck boys soccer head coach Art Nunes enters his 17th year at the helm, carrying a convincing 255-37-17 ledger as the former 1972 team captain has guided the Greyhounds to the NVL title game in 13 of the last 14 seasons.
Junior varsity coach Brian Mariano was team captain in 2000-2001 and was nominated for an ESPY Award after his sensational somersault throw in led to the winning goal in the first state championship for the Greyhounds.
Freshman coach Mingo Branco was team captain of the 1981 team and has been instrumental in the youth soccer leagues to help build the foundation of the Greyhounds’ success.
There is a tradition at Naugatuck in regard to the boys soccer program and this season it continues with the captains, seniors Nolan Kinne and Matt Schmacher and juniors Jordan Bronko and Jason Goja.
“We groom them from day one as freshman,” Nunes said. “We make adjustments as a group but the fundamentals stay the same as a unit. The freshmen, junior varsity, and varsity are all playing the same system.”
Naugatuck has lost only three NVL titles in the past 14 seasons to Seymour, Holy Cross and last year to Watertown. The Greyhounds come into this season with a clear vision of getting back to the title game.
“I think the biggest obstacle we will face is having to replace eight starters with players who saw very limited action last season,” admitted Nunes. “But they are ready to assume that responsibility. The senior class is looking forward to maintaining the tradition that we have built here. It’s never about individual statistics; it’s all about a team concept.”
The strength of the Greyhounds is their athleticism, lending to equal parts of an efficient offense and a stabilizing defense. They pride themselves on being a balanced team that is never one-sided.
Leading the way on defense will be senior goalkeepers James Bell and junior Matt Bode. Out in front of the net will be Schumacher, junior Isaque Monteiro and sophomore Facundo Coitino.
There is strength in numbers and the depth of the Naugatuck defense will be the key to a return trip to another NVL title game. Seniors Chris Szarzynski, Manny Oliveira and Bill Kiely team up with juniors Mike Martins, Ryan Massicott and sophomore Billy Zavodjancik to keep opponents off the scoreboard.
The Greyhounds have always had that go-to guy who can put it in the net when need be. This year the offense will need to rely on its overall skills and team play to create scoring opportunities.
It will start at midfield with Bronko and junior Martin Chromik battling for possessions. The speed of Goja and Kinne will allow the Greyhounds to put pressure on the opponents’ nets.
Senior Matt DaSilva along sophomores Adam Branco and Josh Corbo will utilize their ball-handling skills to find the open lane, working possessions behind the opponent’s defense.
“We don’t have that Tiago Martins kind of scorer this year,” said Nunes. “But we do have the players with the skills to move the ball into position and take advantage of our opportunities. We need to play our game. We need to play smart, aggressive and take advantage of our opportunities if we are to get back to another title game appearance.”
And getting back to that familiar place likely won’t be a breeze with plenty of competition in what has been a very strong league over the last few years.
“I think every team in the NVL presents a challenge to us,” Nunes said. “Everyone will be bringing their A-game looking to knock us off and we had better be ready to bring our A-game as well. There are no days off in this league. All three of the city schools have gotten better. Seymour is always a tough opponent as is Holy Cross and Torrington. Then there is Watertown, the defending champion, and they haven’t lost much from that team.”
It all starts on Tuesday when the Greyhounds travel to Waterbury to take on Kennedy for a 6 p.m. showdown at Municipal Stadium. Naugatuck will host St. Paul in its home opener next Friday at 6 p.m.