Boys Soccer: Norwalk comes up short against Stamford
By STEVE GEOGHEGAN Hour Staff Writer
STAMFORD — Chris Laughton has seen a lot when it comes to his teams in his nine seasons as head coach of the highly-successful Norwalk High boys soccer program.
Over the past two games, however, he’s seen his players play without a desire to compete at a level he expects them to at all times and that has contributed to a two-game slide, most recently a 2-1 FCIAC loss to Stamford on Thursday at Stamford High.
“I didn’t see a guy on the field where it mattered if we won or loss the game,” Laughton said. “I’ve never had that in nine years here at Norwalk High. I’ve always had competitors.”
After losing to Danbury in their home opener 3-1 on Tuesday, Laughton finds his team with a 1-2 record and he said he’ll find out what this team is made of in how it responds going forward.
“We have to figure it out quick,” he said. “It’s a gut check. You can either go on this way, and you’re going to have a lot of games like this, or the guys are going to have to figure it out. We don’t ask for much, we ask for effort and that’s the expectation every day.”
Norwalk and Stamford were locked in a scoreless draw at the end of the first half but the game opened up, in terms of finding the back of the net, in the second with the Black Knights (2-0) taking advantage of their scoring opportunities.
“I thought we matched up pretty well, and both teams wanted to play the same style,” Stamford head coach Mario Caminiti said. “We have the same players in terms of qualities and their technical abilities. I thought they (Norwalk) might have had an edge in the first half with their midfielder players and they were controlling the ball and their possession was stronger than ours.
“We were committing to certain plays and maybe miskicking and not making the right decisions and we talked about it at halftime, to think more,” he added. “I think we grew throughout the game and the game was well-balanced, well-played on both ends.
The Black Knights went ahead 1-0 just 2:10 into the second when Leao Valladares moved the ball down the right flank and Bears goalie Tyler Dalton (five total saves) came out to challenge. His shot was blocked by Dalton but Valladares gathered up the rebound and placed it into the bottom left corner in the 43rd minute.
Stamford continued to put the pressure on and that tenacity led to its second goal and a 2-0 lead in the 60th minute.
Victor Gjuraj passed up ahead to Valladares, who took a shot with Dalton making the save. Philip Pec pounced on the rebound and buried his shot into the bottom left corner.
That may have fired up the Bears because one minute later they were celebrating a goal.
Santiago Mesa was fouled making a run at the Stamford goal, leading to a free kick. George Kutrubis sent the kick into the box where Estephen Restrepo headed the ball into the top left corner of the net, out of the reach of Black Knights keeper Alex Grabar, in the 61st minute to bring the Bears to within one.
“I felt like our effort picked up after we scored that goal but it was like blah,” said Laughton, who noted there could be some changes in line for his squad. “I think it’s mental because these guys can do it in practice and when it comes to the game, for whatever reason, they’re not executing.”
Norwalk continued to attack yet were denied by Grabar.
In a similar play to the first goal, Kutrubis took a corner kick and the ball found its way to Restrepo and his header was ticketed to the goal before Grabar made a great save in the 65th minute. Mesa had a one-on-one with Grabar in the 77th minute and Grabar was able to slap away Mesa’s shot toward the bottom left corner out of bounds.
“The goalie made two great saves at the end so hats off to the goalie,” Laughton said.
Grabar splits time in goal with Justin Wexler and Caminiti said he made fantastic saves at the end to rescue the Black Knights.
“It means a lot to me,” said Grabar, who finished with six saves. “It’s my first varsity game and I’m a sophomore, too, so it’s a big deal. Coming up with that save (against Mesa), I just knew that it could’ve been the game right there.”
Norwalk hosts Bridgeport Central on Tuesday while Stamford takes on Brien McMahon on Saturday morning at home.