Woodland captures NVL championship

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The Woodland boys soccer team celebrates after winning their first Naugatuck Valley League championship Tuesday night at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury. The Hawks defeated Watertown 2-1 to claim the crown. KEN MORSE

WATERBURY — After Matt Moutinho scored the go-ahead goal on a header off a corner by Rich Vadala with 7:23 to play in the Naugatuck Valley League championship Tuesday night, Woodland went into survival mode, desperate to hold its 2-1 lead over Watertown.

Hawks coach Tony Moutinho put his best players, including leading goal-scorer Eric Dietz, on defense and hoped for the best.

“It was heartbreaking,” Tony Moutinho said. “I got everyone back. Dietz is one of our best defenders so I put him back there.”

“It was hectic as ever,” said Dietz, whose brother, Pat, defended the goal behind him. “We had to hold out for seven minutes. I went back on defense and I knew we were going to win.”

And it all worked. When the remaining seconds ticked off the clock, the Hawks were standing with their first-ever NVL championship after a 2-1 win over the defending champion before about 800 fans, by far the largest crowd to ever watch a Woodland soccer game.

“I don’t even have words to express it,” said Tony Moutinho, who has been with the program since the beginning. “It’s just unbelievable.”

Woodland’s Eric Dietz (19) controls the ball before going on the attack as Watertown’s Costa Gakidis defends Tuesday night at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury. The Hawks bested the Indians 2-1 to win their first NVL championship. RA ARCHIVE

Woodland trailed, 1-0, at the half after a goal by Arian Hoxha with just 2:48 to play in the first. But the unbeaten Hawks (18-0-1) were not deterred as they had more quality opportunities in the half, including two near-misses by Eric Dietz in the game’s first nine minutes.

“I told them not to panic,” Tony Moutinho said. “We had plenty of time. We were outplaying them I thought. We had a few chances and they didn’t go in. I told them to just play our game.”

“We had to come out more aggressive,” Matt Moutinho said. “We came out strong in the first 10 minutes and then we sort of backed off and they started dominating and scored a goal. We had to come out with that same intensity right away, and it worked.”

Woodland almost fell behind by another goal in the first minute of the second half. The Indians (12-4-3) managed to fire two shots at Pat Dietz from inside the box, but he sprawled out to his right twice to block them both.

“The team in front of me broke up for a little bit,” Pat Dietz said. “I was there to back them up. I didn’t know if I was going to save it, but whatever I was going to do was for the team.”

After Dietz’s two huge saves, Woodland took over the momentum for the rest of the match. The Hawks finally tied the game in the 51st minute when Mike Costa penetrated deep inside the box to the right of the goal before finally crossing to Eric Dietz, who chipped the ball into the right side of the net.

“He got it right through the defender’s legs,” Eric Dietz said of Costa’s pass. “I chipped it over the goalie and it went in.”

“I couldn’t believe Costa hit that,” Tony Moutinho said. “He has great touch but he usually plays in the back so he can’t show it. But he dribbled around and we got it in the goal.”

Woodland controlled most of the possessions for the next 20 minutes until finally the Hawks earned a corner kick to the left of the Indians’ net in the 73rd minute.

Vadala drove his corner to the near side of the six-yard box where Matt Moutinho punched in a header to the center of the net for a 2-1 lead.

“Against St. Paul [in the quarterfinal], we ran a similar thing,” Matt Moutinho said. “I sit in front of the goalie. We play it right to that front post and I headed it in. I figured we might as well try the same thing.”

And it worked. But those last seven-plus minutes weren’t easy for the Hawks. Watertown had several more chances that were all broken up by Pat Dietz, who combined with Marc Beaulieu to give Woodland a fantastic game in net.
With 6:15 to play, the Indians had a free kick from 25 yards away that was tipped by Pat Dietz away to the right side of the goal. Watertown’s attempt at a rebound shot went wide.

Four minutes later, the Indians managed a crossing pass into the box and Pat Dietz dove to his right to make another crucial save.

“It was so intense,” Pat Dietz said. “I was trying to keep focus but I was really nervous on the inside. But my brother came back on defense so I felt really good about it. He had my back and I had his back.”

Everyone had everyone’s back as the Hawks stormed the field to celebrate the team’s first-ever league soccer title and the school’s first NVL soccer championship since the girls captured the crown in 2004.

“It feels great,” Matt Moutinho said. “It’s something I always wanted since I started playing soccer. It feels great to actually have it now.”

But now, it’s back to business for Woodland, which will be the No. 1 team in the Class M playoffs and will host a second-round game on Saturday.

“I said at the beginning of the season, we will go for the Brass Division title, then we go up to the tournament, then the states,” Tony Moutinho said. “Now we will go for the trifecta.”