With perhaps a half-dozen teams capable of hoisting the trophy, this year’s Naugatuck Valley League boys soccer tournament could be the most competitive one in recent memory.
Woodland and Naugatuck should be two of the foremost contenders for the NVL title, which the Greyhounds have won in each of the last five seasons.
The Hawks and Greyhounds, along with unbeaten Watertown and St. Paul, are expected to be the four strongest teams in a tight field that will also include talented teams in Seymour and Holy Cross.
Woodland is the No. 2 seed and Naugatuck No. 3, behind No. 1 Watertown. The remaining seeds are up for grabs with some games left to be played today.
“Of the top five or six (teams), anyone can win it,” Woodland coach Tony Moutinho said. “I think Naugatuck — even though they’re not playing their best — they’re still the team to beat.”
Woodland ended the regular season on a six-game winning streak to finish 11-2-3 overall. Moutinho was encouraged by results against Naugatuck (1-1 tie on Sept. 20) and Watertown (2-1 loss on Oct. 5), and the Hawks responded to their defeat against the Indians by scoring 13 goals in their next three matches.
“Right now, we’re playing our best ball,” Moutinho said. “I’m feeling like we can run the table. We’re playing as a team. Defense has been playing well all season, but the offense is clicking. We’re getting more shots. They know they’re good enough to score, but it’s just a matter of getting confidence in themselves. In the beginning, we were a little afraid to compete against the bigger teams, but now they have the confidence.”
Jason Claiborn continues to lead the offense as he scored goals in a 2-1 win over Torrington on Oct. 12 and a 3-0 victory over Kennedy on Oct. 15. Cole Barrows, Tim Mendes, and Devon Polletta also found the back of the net in those games, and Ryan Lamb made a combined 11 saves in those matches.
The Hawks also have striker Maciej Lewicki back for the league tournament after he missed most of the regular season with a back injury.
Naugatuck hasn’t been as dominant this season as the Greyhounds were last year, but they finished the regular season 10-3-3 overall. Naugy won three of the last four games, with the exception of a 0-0 tie against top-seeded Watertown.
Naugatuck’s two losses against NVL opponents came at the hands of Watertown (3-1 on Sept. 22) and St. Paul (3-1 on Oct. 13).
The ‘Hounds rebounded from the loss to the Falcons with a 5-0 win over Ansonia on Oct. 15. Bruno Silva scored twice, while Tommy Martins, Samuel Daniel and Qasim Zia each scored once.
The league quarterfinals are scheduled for Saturday, with the semifinals and final set for next week. With such a tight bunch of contending teams, Moutinho thinks it’ll only take a little bit of separation to determine winners and losers during the postseason.
“Everyone has to stay focused,” Moutinho said. “Everyone has to be at their best. Every team is so close to each other that everyone has to be at their best because one mistake can make the difference.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the version that is published in the Oct. 25 edition of the Citizen’s News to include information on games played after press time.