Bears fall short
By TOM EVANS
Hour Staff writer
NORWALK — The Trumbull boys soccer team had Norwalk’s number this year, and that number was two.
The seventh-seeded Eagles handed the No. 3 Bears two of their three losses this season, including a 3-1 defeat Saturday night at Ken Strong Stadium in the Class LL state semifinals.
And while Trumbull – who will take on top-seeded Pomperaug (18-0-1) Friday or Saturday for the title – netted the clinching goal with 16:05 remaining in the second half, it was the first two goals that could have stunned Norwalk and sent them home early. That was not the case. The Bears (16-3-2) battled for 80 minutes, finally breaking through the big, rugged Trumbull defense to cut that deficit in half on a direct kick by senior striker Nick Zuniga to the low right side of the net with 25:18 to play.
There were several other opportunities that either didn’t reach the goal, or were gobbled up by junior goalkeeper Nick Weinstein (nine saves) as the Eagles (18-1-4) make their deepest foray into the state tournament in school history.
“Trumbull has a solid defense, and I thought we created a lot of chances,” said Norwalk head coach Chris Laughton. “(Trumbull) was able to put away their chances, and we weren’t. When we made it 2-1, I thought we could get the equalizer. If any group (at Norwalk) deserved to get to a state championship game it’s this group. The seniors pushed us through all year.”
The Eagles came out flying on this chilly, windy night, and senior striker Keith Bond used his considerable speed and power to get his team on the scoreboard 2:19 into the contest.
Bond picked up a loose ball on the left wing and outraced the defense before snapping a left-footed shot past sophomore goalkeeper Svet Kozak (four saves) for a quick 1-0 advantage.
“We came in and knew we wanted to come out strong,” Bond said. “I trusted my speed and tapped it in at the post. They were thinking it was a fluke last time (a 2-0 loss Sept. 22 at McDougall Stadium), and we were excited to have a 2-0 lead six minutes in. (Norwalk) passed the ball well, but we showed that our play was successful.”
Weinstein denied sophomore midfielder Jon Ceja less than a minute after Bond’s tally, and Trumbull moved the ball upfield.
Senior midfielder Matt O’Brien fed an entry pass to junior forward Zach Chase, and Chase headed the ball into the twine at the 33:42 mark to put the Eagles ahead 2-0.
“Now we can absolutely say Trumbull is the best team in the FCIAC,” said Trumbull head coach Sebastian Gangemi, whose team won the league tournament but did not have to go through Norwalk because of the Bears’ firstround upset loss to New Canaan. “Those two goals set the pace, and were huge for us. Norwalk is an explosive team, a hard team, and they are a great bunch of kids. I can’t say enough about my defense. We’ve only given up half a dozen goals all year, and only two goals in the tournament. I knew the third goal would be the dagger.” Junior forward Shay Neary delivered that decisive blow, after Bond was taken down in the penalty area.
After the second goal, Norwalk junior defender Paul Soja rifled a shot from the middle that Weinstein leaped to stop at 21:50 of the first half, and the keeper denied a header from junior forward Kevin Joslyn off a corner kick 30 seconds later to preserve the margin – a save Weinstein repeated just over four minutes later when senior forward Mike Broncati fed Joslyn.
Zuniga said there was no elaborate defensive scheme to keep he and the other talented Norwalk scorers under wraps. “The main thing that motivated us for this run was that we love to play together,” Zuniga said. “We just couldn’t get the last two wins. Trumbull is simple in the back, but they don’t make mistakes. The whole game I was getting man-marked, and I had to play a little quicker. After we got the first goal we got very motivated, and we played to that last whistle.” Laughton agreed that Zuniga was not given much space to roam. “(Trumbull) didn’t give Nick much room at all,” Laughton said.
© The Hour Newspaper.