Validated Vikings Westhill hands Norwalk first loss and identifies itself as a title contender
By Dave Ruden
STAMFORD — The Westhill High School boys soccer team has been locked in a battle for one of the four Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference playoff spots. Still, both the players and coach felt their resume was lacking the type of quality win that would validate their hopes.
Against the other contending teams they had faced, the Vikings were 1-3-1.
Thus, yesterday’s home game with Norwalk, which is in a struggle of its own for the top seed in the tournament, was given priority importance.
“It was either a must-win or a must-tie,” Westhill coach Mark Lukas said. “We couldn’t have another loss against another big team.”
Playing with a sense of urgency, the Vikings were quicker to the ball, and used a nifty three-pass sequence to score the game’s only goal and hand the Bears their first loss, 1-0.
“This was a pretty big game and a pretty big win,” said Andres Ruiz, the Vikings’ goalkeeper, who made a pivotal save two minutes before David Tumulik’s deciding score. “We knew we were one of the best teams but we hadn’t beaten the best. This was our biggest win of the year.”
Westhill improved to 7-3-1 and is currently tied, at 22 points with Trumbull, for the fourth-best record, one point behind New Canaan. In terms of potential tie-breakers, the Vikings played the Rams to a draw and lost to the Eagles.
“We needed to stop saying we were one of the top teams. We needed to do it,” Lukas said. “Today we did that.”
Norwalk (9-1-2), the defending FCIAC and CIAC Class LL runner-up, lost six starters from a year ago and four more since the beginning of this season, due to injury or disciplinary action.
The Bears are not as deep, but have flourished behind an underrated defense, led by Matt Mitchell, the midfield play of Mike Fraioli, and the finishing prowess of Anthony Fraioli, who has 17 goals.
But Norwalk was slow to the ball yesterday and the Vikings did a masterful job marking Anthony Fraioli, whose frustration led to his picking up a yellow card with 15 minutes remaining.
“They outworked us today, there was no question about it,” Norwalk coach Kurt Simonsen said. “As thin as we are and we don’t bring intensity to the field . . . credit Westhill.”
Most of the scoring chances in the first half were created by the Vikings’ Jorge Zubillaga, who was a dual threat distributing the ball and freeing himself for shots off the dribble.
“We were really pumped for this game,” Ruiz said. “In the first half we were touching the ball much better.”
Neither Ruiz nor Bears goalkeeper Michael Surace were tested in the opening half. The best opportunity came right before the intermission, when the Vikings’ Jonathan Martinez played a nice long ball into the box, but there was no one at the far post to finish.
“We’re pretty good with the ball,” Lukas said. “We’re very fast. We’re not big but we know how to play.”
Westhill continued to dominate possession time in the second half, and after good midfield support Zubillaga shot just high of the crossbar from 20 yards.
The Bears’ best chance came when Connor Prescott put a ball from the right side in front of the goal. It deflected off of the Vikings’ Bryan Ramirez, who was fending off a Norwalk player, but Ruiz anticipated the play and made a diving save.
“When you are the goalie you always have to expect something like that,” Ruiz said.
In the 54th minute, the Vikings used quick ball movement to score. Cesar Rios set up Darlin Lazo, whose centering pass was one-touched by Tumulik into the net.
“It was a beautiful counterattack goal,” Lukas said.
Anthony Fraioli became increasingly irked by the constant attention he received and finally drew a yellow card. He was eligible, after the mandatory 10-minute penalty, to return for the final five minutes, but Simonsen kept him on the bench.
Norwalk dropped a game behind Greenwich for the top seed in the playoffs. Simonsen did not rule out the possibility that yesterday’s loss could prove beneficial over the long term.
“I think it definitely has the potential to be positive depending on what we make of it,” he said. “If it reinvigorates our work ethic and energy on the field that would be great.”
The Westhill players by late yesterday afternoon could give a lesson in rejuvenation.
“We needed this,” Ruiz said. “It feels good to beat a good team and have a chance for the FCIAC playoffs because that is where we want to be.”
Copyright © 2005, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc
Vikings hand Bears first defeat of season
By BRIAN FRAGA
STAMFORD — From studying the box-scores of the undefeated Norwalk High School boys soccer team’s games this season, Westhill High School boys soccer coach Mark Lukas knew the key to defeating the Bears lay in neutralizing the high-scoring brother tandem of Anthony and Mike Fraioli.
“When you look at the box scores, you always see a Fraioli name there,” Lukas said, “So you know if one of them doesn’t score, you have a good chance of winning.”
Utilizing a team defensive strategy that focused on shutting down the Fraioli brothers while relentlessly attacking the Norwalk side of the field, the Vikings defeated the Bears 1-0 at home to give Norwalk its first loss of the season
The loss dropped the Bears to 9-1-2 overall while Westhill improved to 8-3-1.
Westhill forward David Tumulik scored the game’s lone goal in the 54th minute when he timed a one-touch shot in front of the Norwalk net off a centering pass from senior midfielder Darlin Lazo.
Senior midfielder Cezar Rios initiated the scoring sequence when he won a 50-50 ball in midfield and lobbed it to Lazo on the right side of the field.
The goal came after a first half in which the Vikings midfielders and forwards continually beat the Bears to 50-50 balls and applied pressure on Norwalk goalkeeper Michael Surace, who was busy saving six shots and smothering several more dangerous balls in the box.
Playing together on the right side of the field, Westhill sophomore flank midfielder Bryan Ramirez and sophomore forward Jorge Zubillaga on several occasions broke don the Norwalk defense with their speed and on-the-ball moves.
“They’re both very fast, and very good with the ball,” Lukas said. “They’re fast with the ball, they’re fast without the ball. They’re hard to handle, especially with them both being on the same side of the field.”
The Norwalk effort was a disappointment for Bears coach Kurt Simonsen, who said his depleted team — the Bears have lost five players in the last three weeks to injuries or disciplinary reasons — could not afford to be out-hustled on the field.
“They outworked us today, no question about it,” Simonsen said. “As thin as we are, when you don’t show the intensity on the field, you don’t deserve to win the game. No excuses. We didn’t show any sense of urgency until the last 15 minutes of the game.”
With as many as five defenders crowding the middle of the field at times, the Vikings frustrated the Bears with their physical play and stifling defense. Norwalk senior defender Matt Mitchell and Anthony Fraioli drew yellow cards in the game’s waning minutes after complaining to game officials about non-foul calls.
Lukas said it was his team’s work on the ball that enabled the Vikings to defeat the bigger Norwalk players.
“We’re not big, but we know how to play,” Lukas said, adding that the game was “either a must-win or a must-tie” for the Vikings.
“We needed to stop saying we were one of the elite teams in the FCIAC, we had to do it,” he said. “We’re as good with the ball as anybody out there.”
For Simonsen, he hopes his team’s first defeat of the year will lead his players to regroup and come out with a new focus for their next game Friday against Wilton.
“It’s what we make of it,” he said. “If we can take from here an invigorated work ethic on the field, that’s great. But to go 9-0-2 in FCIAC play is pretty darn good. To come out and lose to a good team is nothing to be ashamed of.”