Norwalk edges Staples
By STEVE GEOGHEGAN
Hour Staff Writer
NORWALK — In a game featuring two of the more air-tight defenses in the FCIAC, it would take one miscue for one to come out on top over the other.
That one turned out to be Norwalk, which capitalized on an indirect free kick in the box with Jose Canahui’s game-winning goal in the 70th minute to lift the Bears to a hard-fought and exciting 1-0 victory over Staples in boys soccer action on Tuesday night under the lights at Testa Field.
“Every time we play Staples it’s become a really good rivalry over the years,” said NHS head coach Chris Laughton, whose team lost twice to the Wreckers last year but pulled through on Tuesday to remain undefeated on the season at 6-0. “This is a game that can go either way every time it’s played and I’m glad we were able to come out on top.
“It’s always a playoff-type atmosphere no matter when we play during the season and I think it showed tonight,” he added. “Canahui had a great finish and we were fortunate to get that goal. That’s how these games go; one or two chances here or there and it’s a matter of who’s going to capitalize on it.”
The indirect free kick was granted when the ball was played back up in the air to Staples keeper Noah Schwaeber (four saves), who most likely subconsciously caught the ball instead of playing it to his feet yet didn’t realize one of his defenders kicked it to him under pressure from Norwalk’s Mike Mercuri. The ball was placed where the infraction occurred, from about 12 yards out on the left side of the field.
“It’s a freaky play,” said Staples head coach Dan Woog, whose team slipped to 3-2-1. “They (Norwalk) capitalized and it’s not easy to put it in with everyone in the box but they scored. They had five guys back most of the game and their defense is stout and so is ours. The guys feel really bad but we certainly don’t feel we lost the game. The scoreboard said we did but our guys feel pretty good.”
Patrick Barrantes tapped the ball to Canahui, who blasted a left-footed shot just past a diving Schwaeber and into the bottom left corner of the net, near post, at 69:33.
“This means a lot, especially since they beat us last year and took us out of states,” said Canahui, who has two goals this season. “We played as a team tonight.”
Both teams were coming off dramatic victories the night before with Norwalk playing down a man due to a red card yet still earning a 1-0 win over Stamford on an own goal while Staples rallied from a 3-0 deficit to pull out a monumental 4-3 victory at Ridgefield.
Tuesday’s game also marked the return of Norwalk goalie Tyler Dalton, who missed the first five games due to a back injury but was thrown into the fire against the Wreckers. Despite relentless attacks by Staples towards the end of the contest, he came through for his team and made seven saves, five in the second half.
Dalton returned at just the right time due to the fact Tito Aponte, who was the main starter in Dalton’s absence, had to miss the game due to Monday’s red card.
“You have to have faith in your back four,” Dalton said was a key to his success on this night. “It’s one of the most important things in the game, having faith in your teammates. It’s about keeping up your confidence and playing the game you know how to play.”
Laughton and Woog both praised Dalton for his play on the night in his first action of the season.
With the limited number of attacks on the night, both coaches had high praise for their defenses with Canahui, Loizos Karaiskos, Bill Chirinos and Harry Soriano doing a good job of containing Staples on offense while Andrew Puchala, Gabe Pensak, Josh Berman, Kenji Goto and Daniel Reid, who also saw some time in midfield, thwarted the Bears time and again.
“Our back line really showed the way they’re capable of playing tonight,” said Laughton, who also noted that his team is taking it day by day with its unbeaten record in the league so far. “And Staples has a great back line, as they traditionally do. It was a battle of the defenses tonight.”