New Canaan blanks Norwalk in possible FCIAC playoff preview
By STEVE GEOGHEGAN
Hour Staff Writer
NORWALK — As the saying goes, everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Norwalk High boys soccer team Thursday against New Canaan.
The Bears were hurt by key injuries to defender John Kahlden and midfielder Ronald Machado. In addition, standout forward Anthony Fraioli received a yellow card, which sidelined him for 10 minutes in the second half.
It all added up to a 2-0 loss to New Canaan Thursday afternoon in a highly-physical encounter at Testa Field between two teams bound for the FCIAC playoffs.
“You take those three guys out of the lineup and that’s significant for us,” Norwalk coach Kurt Simonsen said. “We’re not very deep and the players we have on our bench are inexperienced, not that they’re not good, just inexperienced. So we got exposed pretty good once the injuries occurred.
“But I also think New Canaan deserved to win the game,” Simonsen added. “They worked very, very hard today. They made plays and converted their opportunities.”
Norwalk fell to 11-2-2, but can clinch the third seed for the FCIAC playoffs with a victory over Bassick (1-13) Monday. New Canaan improved to 11-1-2, bolstering its chance to earn the No. 2 seed for the conference semfinals, which will be played next Wednesday at Fairfield Ludlowe.
The Rams dominated possession most of the game, holding the ball in Norwalk’s end of the field for long stretches of the first half. They were thwarted time and again thanks to the defense of Kahlden, Matt Mitchell and Kris Whitteaker.
About 25 minutes in, Machado went down with a heel injury and New Canaan continued to keep the pressure on Norwalk’s defense and goalie Michael Surace. The persistence of the Rams finally paid off with a goal off a corner kick at 28:31.
Peter Campbell passed the ball in to Jeff Leach, who kicked it toward the goal. Patrick Randall slipped through the defense and he was near the end line and booted the ball into the bottom middle of the net to give New Canaan a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“We’ve been playing with a lot of confidence the last couple of weeks and that first goal is always critical in any game,” New Canaan coach Eric Swallow said. “That’s one of the things we strive for — to get that first goal. We play very well when we’re ahead.”
The Rams did play well after being ahead, continuing their assault on the Norwalk goal, taking several more shots yet firing wide. Norwalk’s best chance to light up the scoreboard came with 1:21 left in the first half when Mike Fraioli’s header off a Mitchell indirect kick from 25 yards out was stopped by New Canaan goalie Chris McKennan.
Norwalk’s scoring chances from there on out were few and far between.
The second half saw both teams step up its level of intensity with several tough tackles and multiple fouls called on both sides. Kahlden had to leave the game 7:49 into the half with a slight concussion.
“I think when two good teams are going at it trying to win the ball, fouls are going to be called,” Simonsen said. “As long as the fouls aren’t dirty, then it’s acceptable. That’s FCIAC soccer.”
The Rams continued to make advances toward the goal while the Bears were stymied. Norwalk’s frustration boiled over when Anthony Fraioli received a yellow card, along with Andrew Thompson of New Canaan, for what the referees cited as unsportsmanlike behavior. It was Fraioli’s third yellow card of the season, meaning he’ll have to sit out Monday’s game against Bassick.
Anthony Fraioli and his brother Mike, Norwalk’s two top scorers, were shut down the entire game and couldn’t make their own scoring opportunities. Everytime they received the ball, a New Canaan defender converged.
“They throw a lot of numbers up in your face defensively,” Simonsen said of the Rams. “They swarm to the ball and they know exactly where they need to be in their assignments. I’m sure they prepared well to try to minimize Anthony and Mikey.”
Machado came back in the second half but had to leave the game for good 12:20 into the half. Some time later at 53:08, the Rams found the back of the net again.
New Canaan caught the Bears in transition in the back and Matthias Hunkeler fed the ball to Vincent Keneally, who was able to finish and booted the ball into the bottom right corner of the net for a 2-0 lead.
The two-goal edge was more than enough for the Rams yet the rough play from each side continued until the final whistle.
“Norwalk and New Canaan has a rivalry,” Swallow said. “It’s two of the better teams in the FCIAC and in the state. I always expect a tough match and Norwalk has a good side. I could see us playing them again (in the FCIACs).”
For the game, New Canaan fired off seven shots while Norwalk took three and the Rams registered six corner kicks and the Bears had one. Surace recorded five saves while McKennan made three.
“I’m certain my boys will come out on Wednesday night, hopefully against these guys again, and play better,” Simonsen said. “They’re resilient kids and they’ll play hard no matter what.”
New Canaan 2, Norwalk 0 — In a battle of division leaders, the Rams got goals from Pat Randall and Vince Kaneally to improve to 11-1-2. Jeff Leach and Matthias Hunkeler had assists and Chris McKennan stopped two shots as New Canaan avenged a loss in last year’s FCIAC semifinals.
Michael Surace had five saves for the Bears (11-2-2).