All-Area Boys Soccer: Melitsanopoulos secures MVP honors
By STEVE GEOGHEGAN
Hour Staff Writer
NORWALK — Andrew Melitsanopoulos will always be remembered for scoring one of the biggest goals in Norwalk High boys soccer history but he should be remembered in another way.
Melitsanopoulos, who netted the game-winning goal against Fairfield Prep in the Class LL state championship game, was one of the best defenders in the FCIAC, if not the state and New England. He swarmed all over the opposition’s attackers, never letting anyone get by him, and his teammates could always count on him to lead the way in the back.
This past season, the 6-1, 165-pound senior captain and center back stepped up his level of play and carried the Bears to a share of the FCIAC title, their first since 2002, and the Class LL state crown, their first state championship since 1966. For his play, Melitsanopoulos received All-FCIAC first team, Class LL All-State and All-New England honors, the third player to earn such distinction under Laughton along with Nick Zuniga (2011) and Andres Torres (2010).
And he was named The Hour’s All-Area Boys Soccer MVP for 2012.
“He was our most consistent player this year,” Norwalk head coach Chris Laughton said. “Every game he really played well and he was our emotional leader on the field. He got guys ready to go and ready to play. It says a lot about his maturity and his character because the guys believed in him and followed him. That’s the mark of a great captain.”
After so many tough losses in the FCIACs and states the last two years, the Bears were able to put everything together to come out on top, led by the play of Melitsanopoulos.
“This is exactly what we wanted but I didn’t know it was going to feel this great,” said Melitsanopoulos, who will play at Manhattan College next year. “At the beginning of the season, we said we wanted to win FCIACs and states but the way that we did it was surreal. To do it with the class that we did and to show our dominance throughout the entire state, I’m still on Cloud 9. It feels amazing.”
Melitsanopoulos and his fellow backs were responsible for 14 shutouts this past season, a school record, and they were able to take some of the pressure off goalie Svet Kozak.
“It was great communication between Andrew, me and Paul (Soja), and the other defenders,” said Kozak, a junior who will inherit the captaincy from Melitsanopoulos next season. “We didn’t want to let in any goals. They made my job a lot easier because most other keepers face more shots than I do.
“I would just need to come up big once or twice a game and that would seal the shutout for us,” he added. “All the guys (in the back) would do all of the dirty work.”
So what’s the secret to Melitsanopoulos’ success? Laughton said he’s got good size, his work ethic is tremendous, his skills are second to none, very rarely does he make the same mistake twice, and he doesn’t ever want to lose to anyone.
Melitsanopoulos put in the time and effort to perfect his craft and credits his older brothers; Paul and Dean, who both played soccer in college, along with his father Dino, for helping him become the player he is now.
“They showed me the ropes and taught me everything I know,” he said. “It became muscle memory. I would read things in the game that certain players didn’t see and I would vocalize what I was thinking so other people knew what I was seeing. Then we became one huge machine.”
A machine that steamrolled its competition for the most part going 14-1-1 in the regular season (21-1-1 overall). Melitsanopoulos said one of the highlights from the regular season was a come-from-behind 4-3 victory over Ridgefield, which shared the FCIAC crown with Norwalk.
“That was a game we came off the Wilton loss and we needed a spark,” Melitsanopoulos said. “We went down 2-0 early off two poorly defended set pieces and I told the guys to keep on playing. We got a goal at the end of the half and came back. That showed even though we went through some adversity, we can win any game that we play.”
The Bears won two games in the FCIAC playoffs, unlike the last two years when they lost in the first round, to earn a share of the conference crown and they secured the No. 1 seed in the Class LL state tournament.
Along with several of his teammates, Melitsanopoulos put his best foot forward to lead the team through the competition. Laughton said Melitsanopoulos particularly stepped up against Stamford in the state semifinals when the team played without starting center midfielder Nacho Navarro.
“I thought Andrew did a really good job of getting guys focused on the game and setting the tone, in terms of intensity and aggressiveness,” Laughton said. “He did that the entire game and in the state final, he played a great game as well. There are so many games where I thought he stood out and played well, it’s hard to name one or two.”
Melitsanopoulos said he used to dream about the situation which played its way out in the state championship. He stepped to the mark to take the penalty kick against Fairfield Prep goalie Will Steiner, one of the best goalies in the state. Melitsanopoulos wasn’t fazed and converted the kick into the top right corner of the net in the 31st minute.
“It was amazing,” he said. “Any one of us could’ve went up and taken the spot but I was confident. I walked right up, regardless it was Will Steiner in goal, and I put it in the back of the net, and got us the game-winner.”
Laughton said it came full circle for Melitsanopoulos in that situation.
“It’s rare that you see a defender score a game-winning goal in a state championship game but he’s got nerves of steel,” he said. “He stepped up there against an excellent goalkeeper and didn’t seem fazed at all. It’s something he’s going to remember for the rest of his life and I know all of us will as well.”
Even though he’ll be known for netting such a big goal, we shouldn’t forget that Melitsanopoulos made his name on the other side of the ball as one of the best and most decorated defenders to come out of Norwalk High.
© The Hour