Unbeaten Bears spoil McGibney’s return
By MATTHEW DORAN
Hour Staff Writer
NORWALK — Twenty-seven minutes remained in a scoreless tie between the Norwalk High boys soccer team and area rival Staples when the chant slowly began to rise from the crowd.
After missing four games with a dislocated elbow, the ultra-talented Staples senior sniper was finally about to make his return.
“I was at the doctors at 5 o’clock trying to convince him to let me play,” said McGibney, wearing a large blue cast to protect an elbow he injured in a gruesome fall against St. Joseph in the fourth game of the season. “I just wanted to play as much as I can. It was getting pretty tough watching from the sideline.”
The 20 seconds he spent at the scorer’s table was even tougher.
Before McGibney could even get his feet on the turf at Testa Field, Norwalk senior Anthony Fraioli made sure he delivered a little welcome-back gift.
Just seconds after McGibney stepped to the scorers table to check into the game, Fraioli took a brilliant feed down the left hashmark from his brother, Mike Fraioli, and beat Staples goalkeeper Dave Sharpe with a right-footed shot inside the right post to give his team a one-goal advantage with 21:26 left.
Norwalk’s defense, led by some spectacular goalkeeping by senior Mike Surace and the steady play of senior sweeper Matt Mitchell, held off McGibney and a hard-charging Staples offense the rest of the way to post a 1-0 victory in another exciting match between the two longtime rivals.
Staples (5-3-2) actually had more quality chances in the second half, hitting the unbeaten Bears (9-0-2) with a steady wave of pressure after Norwalk sophomore Ron Machado was tagged with a questionable yellow card with 28:50 left.
Once McGibney entered the game, Staples hit a second gear. It was like the Wreckers were given an infusion of instant offense.
“Ross is just such a great player,” said Anthony Fraioli, who plays with McGibney on the Beachside elite team during the summer. “He just knows how to get the offense going.”
The cumbersome full-length cast kept McGibney from moving his arm, but it didn’t stop his legs, which created a number of golden opportunities late in the game.
“Any time he gets in, he’s so quick, you have to pay close attention to him,” Norwalk head coach Kurt Simonsen said. “He’s just so good. He changes the complexion of the game just by reputation alone, even with an injured arm when he’s not 100 percent.”
Norwalk, which finished with a 14-12 advantage in shots, didn’t get its offense cranked up until the final minutes of the second half.
Staples really only had one big breakdown on the defensive side of the field, but just as it has done all through this suddenly storybook season, Norwalk took advantage.
Norwalk midfielder Jon Colangelo started things off in the center of the field, skipping past two Staples players then feeding a pass through to junior Mike Fraioli on the right side. The younger Fraioli quickly skipped the ball across the field, past Staples standout defender Colin Nangle and right onto the foot of his brother making a run up the left side.
“I was calling for it and my brother played a perfect ball with just enough power to get it past Colin,” Anthony said. “He always likes to look to me when he’s passing the ball. A lot of my goals have come off assists by him.”
Fraioli, leading the team with 17 goals so far this season, buried a shot inside the right post past a diving Sharpe (eight saves) and just like that, Norwalk had the lead.
“That’s why they’re undefeated,” Staples head coach Dan Woog said. “They’re a very opportunistic team that will always find a way to win.”
McGibney was happy to get back on the field and happy to give his team a chance to win. But even he couldn’t help but see the irony of witnessing the go-ahead goal while waiting to make his return at the scorer’s table.
“It was a warm welcome,” McGibney said with his quick Irish wit.
Once the ball reached the foot of Fraioli, Simonsen knew something good was going to happen.
“All year long we’ve picked good spots,” Simonsen said. “Anthony has 17 goals on the year and all of them have been big goals. He hasn’t scored soft goals this year. They’ve all been against good teams.”
Staples missed a number of chances to notch the go-ahead goal, sending at least five set balls through the goal mouth without getting a shot off.
Once they started getting quality shots on goal, Surace was there to deny them. Surace made a great stop on Keaton Cristobal on the left post with 22:45 left on a shot created by McGibney’s work in front of the net.
Surace’s best stop came with 2:47 left, and it came against McGibney.
One of Norwalk’s defenders took a chance on a 50/50 ball and ran right past it. McGibney was left alone on the left side from 20 yards out and ripped a low, hard shot that seemed targeted for the back of the net. But Surace dove to his right and kept the Bears in the lead with a brilliant stop.
“I struck that one well, and I thought I had him beat,” McGibney said. “But he was right there to save it.”
From the moment McGibney entered the game, Staples was pressuring on offense. But Mitchell and fellow Norwalk defenders Dan Pratt and John Kahlden did a nice job standing up to the rush, making sure the lead was kept intact.
Norwalk was missing another starter — it’s third of the season — due to various disciplinary measures. But you never would have known it. The Bears have had a knack for filling holes all season, and did so once again with ease.
“This is a resilient bunch of kids,” Simonsen said. “They really don’t care who’s on the field, as long as they’re wearing green and white. They’re willing to work. They guys are willing to play their roles and do everything they can to win the match.”
Norwalk didn’t muster its first shot in the second half until 15 minutes had elapsed. After Fraioli’s goal, the Bears started peppering the Staples net with shots to counter pressure by the Wreckers.
“We always find a way to win,” Fraioli said. “We’re not always that good at the start of games, but we’re always the better team in the second half.”
Bears Keep Foot on Playoff Pedal
By Paul Silverfarb
The good times keep rolling for the Norwalk High School boys’ soccer team.
Against Staples High School Monday night under the lights at Sam Testa Field, the Bears scored only one goal, but it was good enough to beat the Wreckers.
In the second half of the game, Norwalk’s Jonathan Colangelo got the ball at the midfield line and passed to Mike Fraioli. Fraioli then slid the ball past two Staples defenders and right to his brother, Anthony, who got in behind the defense and forced a one-on-one with Staples goalie Dave Sharpe.
Anthony Fraioli won the battle, drilling a shot that slipped just inside the lower right post and gave the Bears the 1-0 lead and ultimately the victory.
The Bears out-shot the Wreckers 10-9. Norwalk’s Michael Surace made eight saves for the shutout, while Sharpe added seven saves for the Wreckers.
“Anytime you come out and beat a team like Staples, with the rich tradition that they have every year, it’s something that the kids feel is a quality win and has a lot of value in terms of keeping their spirits high,” said Norwalk head coach Kurt Simonsen.
With the victory, Norwalk kept its undefeated record going strong at 9-0-2 on the season.
With only four games remaining as of press time, the Bears are exactly where they want to be. Norwalk has 29 points in 11 league matches. Having already qualified for the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference tournament, the Bears are fighting for one of the top four standings in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference.
“With four games to go, we put ourselves in a really good spot,” said Simonsen. “It’s really nice to be able to control our destiny. We don’t have to wait for help or hope something happens somewhere else in the league. If we could hold up our end here, we can get into the [FCIAC] tournament.”
Helping the Bears get to where they now stand were the Fraioli brothers. When Anthony Fraioli scored his goal against the Wreckers, it gave him 16 on the season. Mike Fraioli leads the team in assists.
“They are responsible for the vast majority of our offense,” said Simonsen. “They play off each other well and love to go to the goal. They don’t like to lose, so all of those are a great combination. They are an invaluable resource for our team.”
Even more than the dynamic duo, the defense is key to the success of the team. Playing at the defensive back positions are Matt Mitchell (center), Dan Pratt (left) and John Kahlden (right). Colangelo is found at the defensive center/midfield, and Surace is between the pipes.
In 11 games played, Norwalk’s defense has given up only eight goals so far, with three coming from the battle with Brien McMahon early in the season.
“They are stingy at defense; they stay organized and absorb pressure all year long,” said Simonsen. “We play a very basic defense with the sweepers, but the difference is that they refuse to lose. They don’t quit, and even in practice they all work as a unit no matter what they’re doing. They are in constant communication with each other.”
Norwalk’s next game was Wednesday against Westhill High School. The results were unavailable before press time. On Tuesday at 3:45 p.m., the Bears will travel to Darien High School for a game against the Blue Wave. Norwalk finishes out its schedule with a home game against New Canaan on Thursday and a battle with Bassick High School on Halloween night.
“We’re at the point where we are preparing for the next team we face and that’s it,” said Simonsen. “We want to change our style to combat what the opponent will do because we’re playing the better teams in the league now and they’ve all got distinct things that they do. We’re going to try and counteract them.”
Although the Bears are exactly where Simonsen wants them to be, he’s not even thinking about their record, saying that it means nothing if the Bears aren’t playing soccer in November.
“Our goal is to come out and play well every day and make the FCIAC tournament,” he said. “It’s about accumulating points. The kids don’t want to lose, and when the coaching staff sat down and logically talked about the season at the beginning of the season, we didn’t talk about going undefeated in the FCIAC. That’s almost impossible. We just want to accumulate points to be one of the top four teams in the conference and advance.”