Westhill unsatisfied after tying Norwalk
By Dave Ruden
NORWALK — At the sound of the final whistle, Brayan Ramirez wore the look of a beaten player. The Westhill High School midfielder put his hands on his hips, shook his head in disgust and gazed into the night sky. “Winning got to our heads,” Ramirez said. “We started playing too cocky, too pretty as we call it.”
It did not matter that the Vikings had remained unbeaten following a 2-2 tie against a gritty Norwalk team that rebounded nicely from a week of turmoil. They have been playing at such a high level all season that a performance short of perfection seems unsatisfactory.
“If you asked me at the beginning of the season if 9-0-2 would be OK, I would have said yes,” said Westhill coach Mark Lukas, referring to his team’s record before last night’s game. “You look now at 9-0-3 and I say no. It feels like a loss. We should have come back and won. We tried.”
Juan Zubillaga’s goal in the 68th minute provided the Vikings with their second straight draw, but that appeared to be their only consolation despite overcoming a sluggish first half. Zubillaga injured his right ankle late in the game and was scheduled to have it X-rayed. And the players took a glass-half-empty view of the outcome.
“We decided to turn it up but it was too late,” Ramirez said. “We started playing when we were down 2-1, but we should be playing like that the whole game. At least this happened now rather than later.”
The mood was more festive at the other end of the field, where the Bears (6-4-2) qualified for the state tournament and, more importantly, righted their ship. Norwalk had lost three of its previous four games and, because of injuries and disciplinary issues that forced coach Kurt Simonsen to move players around, allowed 13 goals in consecutive losses to Staples and Stamford. Simonsen was assessed a pair of yellow calls in the final minute of the Stamford game and had to sit out last night’s contest.
“We needed this,” said George Kasparis, the Bears’ long-time assistant, who ran the team yesterday. “We’re a different team at home. We’ve had some issues and we wanted to play well for our coach because we felt his situation was not fair. We’re satisfied, but not happy.”
Norwalk took advantage of the Vikings’ early lethargy and almost scored when Ronald Machado’s 25-yard bullet in the sixth minute was punched over the crossbar at the last instant by Viking goalkeeper Oscar Acosta. Westhill struck first, in the ninth minute, when Daniel Ruiz converted off Sony Narro’s corner kick for a 1-0 lead.
The Vikings’ game plan was no different than any of Norwalk’s opponents: Stop Mike Fraioli. One of the state’s most dangerous scorers, Fraioli came into the night with 18 goals and was marked by as many as two or three defenders.
“Our goal this year was the same as last year, to contain Fraioli,” Lukas said. The Vikings got a little help early when Fraioli headed a ball off the post, but there was no defending his direct kick in the 33rd minute. Fraioli lined up and drilled a shot from about 30 yards into the left side. Acosta, either screened or with little time to react, never moved.
Norwalk goalkeeper Michael Jimenez, who at times was sensational and at others punched at balls he should have controlled, came up big in the 56th minute when he robbed Narro, who had beaten two defenders and got off a hard shot.
The Bears countered in transition for their only lead. After a foul, Manny Arteaga took a direct kick from 20 yards on the far left side and hooked a shot by Acosta, who mis-timed the ball and watched it loop by him into the far corner.
“That was the only soft goal we have given up all year,” Lukas said. “We gave them too many chances near our box, mostly on indirect and direct kicks.” Playing with a greater sense of urgency, the Vikings equalized when Jimenez could not control a ball by Ruiz. Jorge Zubillaga picked up the rebound and tapped it to his brother, who fired into an open goal.
Westhill had several chances to go ahead, the best coming in the 68th minute when Jimenez, his body fully extended, stopped a shot by Jason Villagomez. “We decided to turn it up but it was too late,” Ramirez said. “We should be winning these games.”
The Bears, who have seen a constant turnover in personnel finally catch up with them, proved they can still be formidable and potentially a tough out in the postseason.
“We started to keep our composure on defense in the second half, contained them better and it paid off,” Kasparis said. “We can compete with any team in this conference.”
The Vikings have higher aspirations, which accounted for their dissenting view to the outcome. “We’re a good team and showed we can turn it on,” Lukas said. “We came back and got a tie. We almost won. Hopefully next time.”
Copyright (c) 2006, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.