Greenwich hands Norwalk first loss
By BOB BIRGE
NORWALK — Greenwich’s Bernardo Franca spoiled the senior night celebration for the Norwalk boys soccer team.
The sophomore scored two goals Monday, including the game-winner with just under 15 minutes remaining, as the Cardinals rallied for a 2-1 victory over the Bears at Testa Field.
Although Greenwich (9-2-1) has two losses, it sent a message to the rest of the league that it is still the defending FCIAC champions.
“This was a litmus test for how good we potentially can be going into postseason,” Cardinals’ coach Kurt Putnam said.
Prior to the contest, Norwalk’s 10 seniors were recognized as it was the Bears’ final home game of the season.
But they came away disappointed as Norwalk (9-1-3) suffered its first loss of the season.
The defeat also hurt the Bears’ chances of grabbing the top seed in the FCIAC playoffs as they dropped three points behind Fairfield Ludlowe, which improved to 10-0-3 following a 7-0 win over Harding on Monday.
Each team has three games remaining in the regular season.
“They finished their opportunities and we didn’t,” Norwalk coach Chris Laughton said. “I thought we had a chance in the first half to make it 2-0 and change the complexion of the game.”
The Bears opened the scoring with 33:15 left in the first half when Patrick Barrantes took a cross from Miguel Argueta in the box on the left side.
Barrantes, one of the seniors honored, then beat Greenwich goaltender Jose Romero with a low, hard shot inside the right post.
But Franca used his speed to create a number of dangerous chances for the Cardinals, who finished with a 14-12 edge in shots.
Greenwich got the equalizer with 6:21 left in the first half when Franca got behind the Norwalk defense after taking a pass from Nick Bartels.
One on one with Norwalk goalkeeper Tyler Dalton, Franca chipped a shot over Dalton to make it 1-1.
According to Putnam, the one change the Cardinals made in the second half was to match the Bears’ five in midfield with five players of their own.
“I think we did a good job of restricting their ability to get the ball into 19 (Santiago Mesa),” Putnam said. “In the first half, for the first 20-odd minutes they were killing us.”
With 22 minutes remaining, Norwalk’s Jose Canahui made the defensive play of the game that could have saved the Bears a point.
After cutting around a Norwalk defender and Dalton, Franca appeared to have an open shot at the net from the left side.
But Canahui positioned himself to get a piece of Franca’s shot and deflected it wide.
However, Franca and Bartels combined again for the winning goal with 14:47 remaining.
Franca took a feed from Bartels about 40 yards from the goal on the left, dribbled in about 20 yards and snapped off a quick shot inside the right post.
“I think the second one was better than the first,” Putnam said. “The first one, he controlled the ball real well and the goalkeeper is giving him the back of the goal, so all he to do is lift it over him.
“The second one is a lot harder. That’s coming across his body and he’s hitting that with the outside of his right foot, so the second one technically was much harder than the first.”
Norwalk nearly tied the game twice in the final four minutes.
With 3:52 left, Mesa got a shot off while falling to the ground and the Norwalk fans cheered as the ball hit the mesh, thinking it was a goal, but it was the outside of the net on the left side that moved.
Then with 2:28 remaining, Barrantes was open in front but sent a shot wide to the right.
“I’m hoping (the defeat) is something that wakes them up,” Laughton said. “It could be a turning point for us in the sense of waking us up and making us more motivated to finish out the year strong.
“I don’t think it’s all negative. It definitely exposed the things we need to work on and we’ll definitely fix that before the season ends.”
Dalton finished with 13 saves while Romero stopped eight shots for the Cardinals.
Norwalk is back in action on Wednesday at St. Joseph (4 p.m.)