Bears top Vikes
By JOE RYAN
STAMFORD — To the untrained observer, the boys soccer game between Norwalk and Westhill was an unmitigated success for the Bears.
For their head coach, though, it was less than inspiring.
The Norwalk boys soccer team stayed undefeated and posted its fourth shutout of the year with a 2-0 victory over Westhill at the Vikings field on Tuesday afternoon.
Whether it was coachspeak or true emotion, Bears coach Chris Laughton was very subdued after his team’s latest win. Norwalk is now 6-0, and the Bears were called the team to beat by the Westhill coach Joe Andrews in his post-game comments. But Laughton thought his team was missing a spark which it had shown in other games.
“Obviously, I’m happy with the result,” Laughton said. “Westhill is a quality team and they have a lot of skill players. We were just disappointed with the overall effort. We feel we could have done better. I think our guys were a little lethargic coming off last week. We had three games in four days, but we’ll rebound and look to continue just getting better.”
Laughton may not have been pleased with the overall picture, but his defensive back wall was almost impenetrable.
Captain Andrew Melitsanopoulos, Paul Soja and Jose Canahui allowed the Vikings to only get off two shots in the game. The Bears have surrendered only three goals so far this year and the back line has a lot to do with those numbers. Its ability to push the ball forward and move effectively in the offensive end allows Norwalk to keep opponents pinned in their half of the field.
“Our back four is the best back four that I’ve had in the six years that I’ve been here,” said Laughton. “They work really well together. Andrew and Paul are definitely the leaders of that group. So far, we have four shutouts in six games, and they take great pride in shutting teams down and minimizing the shots. And I think that was the difference today.” The Bears did all their scoring in the first half with Santiago Muriel connecting off a pretty feed by Michal Nowicki with 29:01 remaining in the first half.
Kevin Joslyn added the second goal 11 minutes later by pushing the ball past Westhill goalie Juan De La Cruz from about 10 yards away. The first half went about as well as Norwalk could have hoped. The Bears allowed only one shot on goal while De La Cruz was working overtime to keep the game from getting out of hand. Westhill’s goalie made five saves on shots and intercepted the Bears’ one corner kick to keep the Vikings within striking distance.
The second half became a defensive struggle and neither team was able to gain advantage. They tried using through balls and precision passing, but both teams played disciplined defense which led to a stalemate. For the Westhill team, that became a moral victory of sorts.
The Vikings are 4-2, but Andrews called the record deceiving on some levels. They have won some early games against the lower tier of the FCIAC, but he does not apologize for the wins because you have to try to win every game. He liked how his team responded to being tested by Norwalk.
“They came at us fast, hard and technical. We knew what to expect,” said Andrews. “It’s just a matter of matching it and for the most part I think we did. They took it to us for a little bit in the first half, but in the second half we settled down. Not that we’re satisfied with that, but I saw some big improvement overall in the second half. Overall, I’m happy with the way the season is going. But I expect a lot of little bumps in the road because it is a new group of guys with only three returning players. I like that we’re hungry and we’re young and that we are starting to gel together.”
Laughton thought that his team pulled back on the reins, and while they got away with it today, that loss of focus could hurt them in other games.
“They got a little complacent and content once up 2-0, but in soccer when the score is 2-0, that’s the most dangerous time to start feeling comfortable,” said Laughton. “We were fortunate we were able to finish the game out. There were some positives there, but we still have to do a better job in the second half of these games. We’ll continue to work at it.”
In spite of his anxiety with they way it finished the win over Westhill, Laughton called this team the most cohesive and tightest unit he has coached.
He was quick to ward off the complement of Andrews, saying there are still a number of quality teams on Norwalk’s schedule. But right now it would be hard to think they won’t be in the mix throughout the season.
In the end, Andrews just may be right.
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