Wethersfield coach Rob Jachym greets sophomore defender Owen Ahmetovic during pregame introductions prior to game vs Newington
Newington boys’ soccer defeated Wethersfield 1-0 last Monday night at WHS, giving the Indians a share of the conference championship and assuring them a spot in the state tournament.
It was the team’s fifth win in six games, completing a total turnaround for a team that just two weeks earlier was searching for answers after losing their fourth straight game, a 2-1 home loss to Plainville on Oct 15, leaving their tournament aspirations in dire straits.
Despite the four-game skid, head coach Jeffrey Brunetti remained optimistic about the team’s outlook heading into the final six games of the season.
“I love this team and I’m excited about their skill and what they can do in games. We’re going to keep plugging away until the end of the year,” Brunetti said after the loss to the Blue Devils, which dropped the Indians to 3-5-2.
Brunetti had the confidence in his players and they delivered, winning five of their final six and showing that they could compete with any team in the state.
“We always had the belief in them,” Brunetti said following the win over Wethersfield, “Defensively we’ve played good collectively and played well when we’re under pressure. It’s all about the collective effort and them buying into what we’re trying to achieve.”
Senior goaltender Nick Cox was incredible against Wethersfield, saving a dozen shots and playing a nearly flawless game between the pipes.
“After we lost four straight, we knew we wanted to get in the tournament. We wanted to show that we’re a good team and that we can play with a champion’s mentality. We played like that today,” said Cox, who credits Brunetti for being a calming voice during the midseason adversity, “ I know he believes in us and he’s confident even when we’re down.”
It took less than a minute for the road team to provide Cox a lead he would not relinquish.
48 seconds into the match, Adam Khadrani hammered home a midair shot after receiving a great setup pass from Christian Amaral.
The last 79 minutes of action featured several shots on goal from the Wethersfield attackers, all which were all thwarted by Cox and his defensive mates.
“They battled. It’s a rivalry game and they earned it,” Wethersfield coach Rob Jachym said of Newington’s effort, “We didn’t hand it to them, they came out here and defended really well and they got the job done.”
Wethersfield fired a array of shots on goal, featuring several near makes but none closer than Antonio Capossela’s shot from 75 feet out late in the first half. The senior captain made perfect contact with the ball but the shot when a tad shy, ricocheting off the crossbar with 3:30 left in the half.
Eagles leading scorer Max Karkos, who finished the regular season with 17 goals, Marco Capasso, Anis Kukic, and Riley Carlson all had multiple chances to tie things up in regulation but all their attempts were either off the mark or saved by Cox.
“I was an attacking player myself so I put a huge emphasis on it and right now it seems like nobody can put the ball in the net, and it’s feels like it’s contagious,” Jachym said of the team’s late-season offensive woes, “The goal seems tiny right now. It’s just one of those things and I hope that we can snap out of it.”
The Eagles averaged 3.3 goals per game over their first dozen games but managed only a total of three goals over their final four regular season games.
Despite the scoring slump, the Eagles still finished the regular season with one of the better records in the conference (12-3-1) and earned a bye in the first round of the state tournament.
Defensively the team was sound and, after giving up the early goal, keeper Francesco Gionfriddo was clean the rest of the night.
“We play really nice soccer. We knock the ball around, we keep it on the ground, we move, we get crosses in, but right now it’s not resulting in wins” Jachym said of the team’s overall play this season, “We’ve done it, against strong teams we played really well but I told them right now we might have to roll our sleeves up and play a little more direct and force some mistakes by our defense. We didn’t see this early on and all of sudden some of these things are coming to light now.”
For Newington it was their defense which allowed them to close out the season with three straight wins, all shutouts.
Cox protects the net but gave credit to the defenders in front of him, “They’re the reason why I don’t give up goals. Trey (Sadler), Evan (Sanford), Alex (Dipaola), they’re all just working so hard. Davis (Basha) is always on their best player and doing a phenomenal job.”
Both Cox and Brunetti praised sophomore Manassah Dalomba, who was a one-man wrecking crew on the defensive end against Wethersfield.
“Manassah is a work horse all over the field. He’s just something special,” said Cox.
“You see how much the kids love him on this side,” added Brunetti, “He’s just at a different level with his mentality and he’s the nicest kid in the world, which is great. He works hard at practice and it’s just great to have him. He is the energizer.”
Newington’s win also avenged a 2-0 loss to the Eagles at NHS earlier this season, which started the Indians four-game skid.
It was another factor that made Monday’s victory at WHS even sweeter.
“We can’t put too much importance on any single game, but they were aware of the situation tonight. So I think it did amp up the work rate, which was important in getting that early goal. Fast starts are important,” Brunetti stated.
As the finals second ticked off the clock at Cottone Field, Wethersfield fired up a desperation shot that was fielded in midair by Cox, who dropped to the ground. The final save wrapped up a memorable night for the goalie and his teammates, who put the finishing touches on an incredible turnaround.
“When I got that ball and I had the fall I knew that the game was almost over. I embraced it and it felt so good when that buzzer rang and that we were conference champions,” recalled Cox.
Brunetti added that the season-finale win was the result of the team sticking together through adversity, “One of the things that I told them was that we believe in them but they have to believe in themselves and each other. There’s a definite belief within the program.”
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin