Norwalk Pulls Away
By JOHN NASH
Hour Staff Writer
NORWALK – For 55 minutes, Norwalk High senior soccer standout Nick Zuniga sat on the Bears bench, chomping at the bit, fidgeting nervously, waiting for coach Chris Laughton to turn around and call out his name.
Time ticked off as slowly as it ever has in his soccer career. Zuniga, who was shelved with a first degree shoulder separation, could only watch helplessly as his team’s early one- goal lead disappeared with just 2.2 seconds left in the half.
Adding to the frustration was Norwalk’s Tuesday night opponent: Cross-city nemesis and archrival Brien McMahon. Zuniga, a senior who was cleared to play by trainers before the bus left for the game, wanted nothing more than one more shot at the Senators. Finally, with 25 minutes left to play, Laughton put Zuniga into the game. The result was a shift in momentum, a shift in McMahon’s defensive focus and a shift on the scoreboard as the Bears netted two goals in the final 19:01 of the game to pull out a 3-1 win at Jack Casagrande Field.
Zuniga even set up the game clincher by Kevin Joslyn with 5:46 to play.
“He’s a game changer, no question about it,” said Laughton, whose Bears squad improved to 7-1-1. “To be honest with you, they cleared him before the game and he said he wanted to play, but I didn’t want to use him unless we had to. It was tied 1-1 with 25 minutes left and we just needed that extra push and I thought Nick came in, he was dangerous and drew a lot of attention and it opened up the other guys.”
Zuniga had been on the field for less than six minutes when Ignacio “Nacho” Navarro fed a perfect through ball feed to Mike Broncati, who shot the ball just inside the far post with 19:01 left, giving the Bears a 2- 1 lead.
“I saw Nacho cut to the middle and I knew what he was going to do. He was going to play it through,” said Broncati. “I started my run early and I was able to get to (the ball) before the goalie. We’ve been practicing through balls a lot and it’s coming together. It worked perfectly there.”
Zuniga then got into the action, sending a diagonal through ball that Joslyn curled around to run on. He also buried the shot, clinching the victory with 5:46 left. “I wanted to play. I was hoping I’d get to play,” Zuniga said. “The team can do good without me, but when I went out on the field, I was so happy. I wanted to play in this game and thankfully we were able to score two more goals.”
Norwalk had taken a 1-0 lead just 2:26 into the game when Erick Romero sent a long direct kick on goal. Vargas couldn’t get it to it and suddenly the Bears had a 1-0 lead. McMahon had two solid opportunities to tie the game, including Dilman Recinos’ shot from Svet Kozak’s left, which the sophomore keeper slapped away. The Senators then couldn’t capitalize on the ensuing corner kick.
McMahon appeared to have scored a goal with 12:27 left in the first half when Christian Echeverri carried the ball in between two Bear defenders and blasted a shot into the back of the net.
He was whistled for being offsides, however, allowing Norwalk to retain its lead.
In the closing seconds, though, Echeverri would get his goal.
Taking a pass from Ariel Erazo, Echeverri found himself one-on-one against Kozak, who dove left while the McMahon junior went the opposite direction with his shot.
The ball clanged off the post, however, and back into the box, leading to a foot race between Echeverri and Kozak – which was won by the McMahon striker, who buried the carom with 2.2 seconds to play to tie the half.
McMahon couldn’t carry that momentum over into the second half, however.
While the Senators made a couple of runs toward the Bears goal in the second half, Kozak (5 total saves) stopped all three shots he faced while the Andrew Melitsanopoulosled defense kept turning away the Senators every time the ball was delivered into the box.
Brien McMahon head coach Ken Dustin, who grew increasingly frustrated with the officiating, begging for a yellow card after one of his players had his feet inadvertently taken out from underneath him, said his team’s defense just wasn’t up to par against a potent Bears attack.
“It was an OK game,” said Dustin, who finally received his yellow much later in the game for a comment that probably didn’t deserve a card. “Defense didn’t match up sometimes and that’s where they got their goals from. It’s simple. The goals weren’t (the goalkeeper’s) fault. We just had defensive breakdowns from the top to the bottom, from the forwards to the midfield to the backfield.”
Zuniga, meanwhile, was enjoying the fact he was able to be on the field for the final buzzer.
“It’s always a good win to beat McMahon,” he said. “They’re our rivals and we always have a big crowd. But, then again, at the end of the season, it’s just another game on the schedule and we’ve got other goals we’re trying to achieve.”
© The Hour Newspaper.