Bears back line has been ‘unsung heroes’ of boys soccer success
By STEVE GEOGHEGAN
Hour Staff Writer
NORWALK – A team’s defensive unit doesn’t receive all the accolades it’s due. It can go mostly unnoticed, giving way to the midfielders and forwards, who usually get all the glory by scoring and assisting on goals. But without a strong defense, the jobs of the players up top can be that much more difficult.
The Norwalk High boys soccer team’s offense ranks with the best in the FCIAC, but the Bears’ defense has shined just as brightly this season.
“Those guys have been the unsung heroes of the team this year,” NHS head coach Chris Laughton said. “They’ve kept us in every game. Most of the games we’ve played, teams have had two to five shots so that’s a credit to those guys.
“This is the best back four that I’ve had in the six years I’ve been here,” he added.
Thanks to this stout defense, the Bears are 6-0 with four shutouts.
Leading this group are the center backs, seniors Andre Melitsanopoulos and Paul Soja. The duo is in its second season as starters and Laughton said Melitsanopoulos and Soja are tough defenders and technical players who take a lot of pride in shutting down an opponent.
“We’ve come through the ranks together and we’ve been playing together since we were little kids,” said Melitsanopoulos, one of the team’s captains and the vocal leader of the defense.” It’s definitely an experience thing but we’re as tight as any other defense you’ll ever meet.”
That tightness and familiarity goes a long way, Soja said.
“On and off the field we’re more of a family, rather than a team or a bunch of individuals,” he said. “We just click and we feed off each other.”
It’s a matter of playing hard for each other and giving their all, Laughton said.
“The key ingredient for them is they’re all very good friends and they don’t want to let each other down,” the coach said. “That’s a big difference. When you know if you’re not going to go in hard on a tackle or you’re not going to defend the right way, you’re going to let down every other guy out there. In my opinion, that’s the reason why they’ve been so successful.”
Melitsanopoulos and Soja are flanked by seniors Michael Bonebrake, Carlos Teysseire and Chris Miklave, and sophomore Jose Canahui, who has started every game with Melitsanopoulos and Soja. Junior Svet Kozak is in his second full season as the starter in goal and Laughton said when he’s called upon, he can make the big save.
“I know they have my back and I have theirs,” Kozak said.
Laughton said Melitsanopoulos and Soja are both great with the ball at their feet and read the game extremely well. Their counterparts in the back are also tough and could be offensive players on any other team, the coach noted, but with the style Norwalk plays, attacking from the outside back positions, it helps the team to get forward and score goals.
The one way this group gets fired up is to score a goal, which has rarely happened this season, but they take it personal when a ball goes into the net.
“Our goal is to try to keep shutouts for most of the time,” Bonebrake said. “If we blow a shutout, it’s a big thing for us. We try to limit goals the entire game. We have four shutouts and we’d like to bring that number up.”
There’s a lot that goes into being a strong defender. They have to keep the ball away from the opposition while getting it up field to the attackers.
Norwalk’s defense has shown it knows what to do when the ball comes into its end of the field.
Bonebrake said they work a lot on transitioning from the defensive third to the offensive third.
“It’s become muscle memory because we work on it so much,” he said.
That hard work has certainly paid off. Laughton said the sky’s the limit with this group when they get more games together under their belts.
Even though they may not get recognized like some of their teammates on the offensive end, that doesn’t bother them because as long as the team continues to notch victories, and secure a shutout along the way, that’s fine with them.
“I’d rather win a game 1-0 than 10-9,” Melitsanopoulos said. “If that means the offense gets the credit, it doesn’t matter. We know that if we get the shutout, we played a good game. We can’t lose if they don’t score.”
If they continue to earn shutouts and keep its team in every game, the Norwalk defense will receive its accolades in terms of titles.
Norwalk’s ‘D’ will be on display again Monday night when the Bears host FCIAC rival Staples under the lights at 7:30p.m. at Testa Field.
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