Norwalk wins season-opener over New Canaan
By BOB BIRGE
NORWALK — After graduating all but one starter from last year’s 21-1-1 Class LL championship squad, the Norwalk boys’ soccer team will try to forge a new identity, and the Bears got that quest off to a good start Tuesday night.
Jose Canahui scored off a quick restart with just over seven minutes left in the first half, and Rene Jimenez provided insurance with 30 seconds remaining as the Bears opened defense of their title with a 2-0 victory over New Canaan at Sam Testa Field.
“This is essentially a totally new group,” said Norwalk head coach Chris Laughton. “Considering that most of these guys have never played a varsity game before, I thought overall it was pretty good. They did a lot of things we were trying to do in terms of maintaining possession and trying to create opportunities.”
The defeat spoiled the head-coaching debut of New Canaan’s Richard Sutherland, whose team also suffered some heavy graduation losses.
The first 30 minutes were fairly uneventful, but some excitement followed after Canahui was tripped up at the 7:07 mark, resulting in the free kick.
Canahui, a junior who happens to be Norwalk’s only returning starter, caught New Canaan asleep at the switch as he drilled a shot just inside the left post.
New Canaan sophomore goaltender Griffin Paterson didn’t even react, nor did the Rams’ defense.
“They didn’t have time to react,” Canahui said. “I just shot it, and it basically went to the corner, which is pretty impossible to stop.”
Sutherland was surprised the referees allowed the restart after the Bears didn’t ask for the Rams’ defense to back up the customary 10 yards that normally gives the offense more room to operate.
“We were under the belief that it’s an automatic 10 yards, or if you stand or move, it’s a card, that’s what we were told,” Sutherland said. “The referees allowed the quick re-kick. It’s just a mis-communication from us and from them. It’s a lesson for us. As I said to the boys, we need to learn from that. It was clever from Norwalk and they took advantage of it.”
Laughton said Canahui is a natural defender but is playing in the middle of the field out of necessity.
“He’s one of our smartest players by far,” Laughton said. “He really understands the game. I think it showed in that play. We caught them off guard and that’s what you have to do. He might be the hardest-working player I’ve had, and that’s saying a lot. He’s a great player to coach. You wish every player was like him.”
Sophomore goaltender Tyler Dalton turned in a strong game for Norwalk in his first varsity start with eight saves. Dalton is taking over for Svet Kozak, who is playing professionally overseas.
The first half was quiet for Dalton, but he faced more pressure in the second half when the Rams pushed for the equalizer.
Dalton’s best save came when he punched out a hard shot by Chase Williams with 20 minutes left in the contest.
With five minutes remaining, New Canaan came within inches of tying the game as John O’Rourke headed Alex Robey’s free kick just over the crossbar.
Despite allowing the bizarre goal late in the first half, Paterson also played well, recording seven saves. New Canaan finished with a 12-9 edge in shots.
“The second half, we just became a little more adventurous and I think we put them on the back foot a little bit more,” Sutherland said. “They had a lot more possessions than us but I think we had a lot more chances.”
With New Canaan playing forward and time running out, Jimenez, another junior, dribbled past a defender, deked Paterson out of position and slide the ball into an open net for a highlight-reel goal with 30 seconds left.
Still, Canahui sees plenty of room for improvement.
“I think we can get better throughout the season and play the brand of soccer we play here at Norwalk High,” he said. “We need to play the ball, play with each other (and) just keeping moving the ball back and forth.”
Both teams have a quick turnaround as they are back in action Thursday.
Norwalk plays at Fairfield Warde and New Canaan hosts Staples in 4 p.m. starts.
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