Class LL Boys Soccer: Norwalk edges Staples
By STEVE GEOGHEGAN
Hour Staff Report
NORWALK — The Norwalk High boys soccer knew that Staples was going to give the Bears everything they’ve got.
And the Wreckers hung tough with Norwalk, especially defensively, the entire way before the Bears scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal by Nacho Navarro to give top-seeded Norwalk a 1-0 victory over the 17th-ranked Wreckers in a physical, emotional and hard-fought Class LL state tournament second round game on Saturday at Testa Field.
“We’ve had a great rivalry with Staples over the last few years and this was just another one of those games, another epic game,” NHS head coach Chris Laughton said. “I’m really happy for the boys that we were able to pull this off. Staples did a great job of pressuring us and maybe throwing us off our game for a little bit. The boys stuck with it and they continued to play. We got a great goal and we’re moving on.”
The Bears (18-1-1) advance to the state quarterfinals where they’ll host the winner of Sunday’s No. 8 Wilton/No. 9 Newtown second round game at 2 p.m. Tuesday. Staples, which overachieved this season after losing nine starters from last year, finished 11-6-2.
The Wreckers showed right off the bat in the first half that they came to play and were able to hold Norwalk’s vaunted attack in check. Their strategy included dropping midfielder Harry Birch into the back and it paid off with the Bears only registering one shot on goal through the first 40 minutes.
“This was a decision the players came up with, they owned it and they did it perfectly,” Staples head coach Dan Woog said. “Harry’s a very versatile player and he stepped it up fantastically today. I think we gave them (Norwalk) as good a game as any team could.”
Staples seemed to have the majority of possession in the first half, registering four shots on goal, yet couldn’t break through on Norwalk’s defense or goalkeeper Svet Kozak, who made nine saves in the shutout.
The best chance for the Wreckers was when Noah Bender broke through the Bears’ defense but Kozak came up with the save in the 28th minute. Santiago Muriel nearly scored for Norwalk but his rocket of a shot went wide right of the goal in the 11th minute.
The intensity picked up in the second half with players on both teams fighting for every 50-50 ball. That resulted in some rough play with four yellow cards (six total) and 21 fouls (39).
“Any time you’re in the state tournament, everybody knows that this is it — your season could end right here,” Laughton said. “Neither side wanted to give in and neither side wanted to see their season end. That tends to result in a physical game. I’m happy nobody got hurt and the boys were able to respond.”
With play going back and forth for much of the second, Norwalk moved into Staples territory late in the 62nd minute. Michal Nowicki sent the ball into the goal box and it found its way to Navarro, who was close to being offside. But there was no signal and he made a move and booted the ball past Staples All-State keeper James Hickok (eight saves) into the bottom left corner of the net for the goal at 63:06.
“I wasn’t expecting it but it was a great ball by Michal,” Navarro said. “It was on my left and I saw a defender running onto me. I didn’t have a comfortable shot so I cut back in, he kept running and then I had the open shot.”
From there, the Bears were content to take time off the clock. The Wreckers tried to muster an attack but were thwarted by Norwalk’s solid defense line with Andrew Melitsanopoulos, Paul Soja and Nico Samperez leading the way, according to Laughton.
Staples’ last chance at an equalizer came in the final three minutes when a header by Joe Greenwald was saved by Kozak.
“Norwalk is a wonderful team to watch,” Woog said. “They are well-coached, they executed great, they’re fast, they’re fun to watch and I said on Oct. 1 (after a 2-0 loss to NHS) that I thought they were the best team in the state. I continue to say that and I hope they take it all.”
Laughton impressed upon his players that in the past, a tight, physical game like this one would’ve been tough for the Bears to win but that isn’t the case anymore.
“This shows the true character of this team – that they’re not going to give up and they refuse to lose, no matter what,” he said.
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